With over 20 years of experience surfing and living in Indonesia, Michael Hill – General Manager of World Surfaris Indo and owner of Lakey Peak Haven – has never experienced a year like 2020. Isolated in Sumbawa, Indonesia with his wife and three kids, Michael tells us a bit about what life looks like for him at the moment…
What were your initial thoughts when Covid-19 hit? How did you respond to the madness being a business owner in the surf travel industry, and what was your attitude like towards the pandemic?
Michael: Well, it was crazy. I had just got back from a family holiday to Australia, the first one in 3 years, and was on a high after heading up to the Sunshine Coast and visiting the crew at World Surfaris. We arrived back on the 29th of February, and at that stage it was just a new virus like SARS, which never really affected us in Indonesia. The next thing I knew, borders were closing around the world, and all of a sudden we were in complete lock-down mode. There was a lot of work behind the scenes that we had to sort out before we could evaluate what our next move would be, including rescheduling 100s of client bookings. Soon after, we had to close our World Surfaris “Surf Shack” on Sunur Beach. After 24 years of living and working full time in Indonesia with my wife and our 3 kids, I had to ask myself a pretty tough question: Should we stay or should we go? In the end, our decision was to stay. Homeschooling was approved by the government and we were to move in to our surf resort, Lakey Peak Haven in Sumbawa as a home base. Our livelihood relies on tourism, so our next mission was to educate ourselves about this virus so that we could plan for our future.
How has Lakey Peak Haven been affected by Covid-19? Is Lakey Peak Haven still up and running, and have you welcomed many guests since Covid-19 hit?
Michael: We moved to Sumbawa on the 5th of April 2020. It was a very daunting experience, we had rubber gloves on, masks covering our faces, and hand sanitiser for days! We landed in Bima, got our luggage, and after being stopped twice for temperature and ID checks, we finally made it to Lakey Peak. Only a few short weeks later, the Sumbawa airport shut down and no one was allowed into Lakey Peak. After 2 weeks of self-quarantine, we started to settle in to our new home and surfed Nunggas everyday with 1 or 2 people out. It’s still that way today, although occasionally you’ll find a European out in the line up on one of those expensive Business Visas. At this point we had to make the tough decision to let our staff at Lakey Peak go temporarily, so it was just us 5. 7 months later, we’ve only had 1 group of 6 guests stay at Lakey Peak with us, so business has been slow to say the very least.
For supplies, we go to the local town called Dompu, which is 1 hour away. There’s not much of a range, but the essentials are always there. Yesterday, I managed to find some avocados – I was so stoked!
What does the average day look like for you? How do you spend your time, make ends meet, socialise, stay healthy and stay sane?
Michael: We are taking it 1 day at a time, put simply. Our 3 kids are homeschooled so that keeps them busy on weekdays, and my wife, Made, tutors them. I have enjoyed working in the gardens, and planting vegetables and fruits which my wife then transforms into beautiful meals. Luckily the wet season has just begun, which frees up 3-4 hours a day of hosing the gardens and opens up more time to do fun stuff! I’ve surfed uncrowded waves most of my life, although this year has been a real treat. The only thing missing is banter with mates in between waves. Our World Surfaris staff in Bali are still working a couple days a week, so we catch up via the internet and keep tabs on what’s happening with our suppliers, accounts and assets like our company cars. So there is still a bit of work to be done each week. We have been working in the surf travel industry in Indo for 24 years, so for things to just dry up so quickly was a really difficult thing to navigate. Surf travel is our whole life, it keeps us going and is the source of all of our inspiration and ambition. We still don’t know if we can make it out of this pandemic intact, but we are going to give it a solid crack. Lakey Peak is a sleepy village, so we spend our time surfing, swimming, gardening, cooking and walking. There is no nightclubs or get-togethers, so people just do things as a family and keep to each other. We are blessed to have 3 healthy kids and they keep us sane, there is always something for us to be entertained with. Recently, we bought 2 chickens as pets, and now we have 17! We’d probably have a few more running around if it wasn’t for the greedy water monitors and snakes. We also have a puppy now called “Aussie”, who is just 3 months old.
The hardest thing we have to deal with daily is trying to work out when surf travel will resume. Will our savings get us through? There is no work available for any of us, should we pack up our bags, lock up shop, and try restart Down Under? No one can answer our questions.
On the other hand, we are so lucky to have enjoyed this journey of life so far, and Covid has helped us to remember that. We’ve followed our dreams and created our own amazing story. Let's hope the future can be as kind to us as our “pre-Covid” life. I look forward to sitting around a large table with friends and family talking about the old days when Covid came to visit!
What are you looking forward to the most once Covid-19 blows over? What can guests expect from Lakey Peak Haven when borders finally open?
Michael: Post Covid seems so far away. I have dreams about being able to hang out with my friends and also to meet new friends. We have so many return clients that we miss too. Thank goodness we have the internet so we can talk to anyone we want and check in on family regularly. Lakey Peak suits any surfer’s travel needs in a post-Covid world. We are a “haven”, so you don’t have to go too far from our place to surf, and when you come back it’s your own private oasis! At this stage, we are staying put in Sumbawa. After all, I’d miss my spot in the lineup at Nunggas too much!
Lakey Peak is renowned for having some of the best waves in Indonesia. Boasting 5 world class waves a stones throw from Lakey Peak Haven surf camp and another 4 all accessible by car or motorbike, Lakey Peak is always worth considering for your next surf adventure.