[Back when the Parthenon was still freshly buffed marble, Greek mariners shared tales of seductive creatures that lay on the shores of the Mediterranean. They had porcelain skin and hair of silk, but it was their voices that made these Sirens irresistible. When their sweet melody made it beyond the waves, passing sailors were drawn to the shore, wrecking their ships on the rocky coast to be stranded within earshot of the ineluctable sound. Like the ancient Greek sailors, surfers are willing to risk everything once they find what calls to them. Perfect waves are our siren song and many a career, relationship, and bright future have been dashed to pieces on the rocks that front them.]
"I remember coming out for the first time and being on the bow of the boat before dawn as the outline of the Mentawais came into view," recalls Ray Wilcoxen. "By the time we pulled into the Playgrounds area, the sun was shining and it seemed like we had found paradise: blue water, empty white beaches, coconut trees swaying in the wind, little waves bending in every direction. I was in love with the place before I ever caught a wave."
Three years later, Wilcoxen found himself shuttering his business in California, selling everything he owned, and moving to that very spot to build a luxury surf resort. But the romantic dream of relocating to a tiny, off-the-grid island—complete with warm barrels, white-sand beaches, and hammocks rocking in the breeze—was far from the reality.
"Looking back at it, we really didn't know anything, and should have been road kill," says Wilcoxen. "None of us had spent time on land there. We didn't know the language; we didn't know the culture. Everyone told us we were going to die of Malaria or Typhoid or get swept away by a tsunami."
Jordan Heuer, another one of Kandui Resort's founders and the founder of Kandui Villas on the other side of the island, can also attest to the harsh realities of the island: "We've gone through so many trials and tribulations to get the resorts off the ground—from being completely broke, penniless, and not knowing where our next meal would come from, to having our lives threatened, and more. We have had hoards of locals with machetes, hassles dealing with authorities, earthquakes, tsunami scares, and even a bomb thrown at me once when we tried to get some photos of some dynamite fishermen destroying the reef."
The complications are now mere speed bumps in the rearview mirror, minor distractions from the dangling carrot out front: a right and left that offer up the kind of perfection generally reserved for daydreams.
"It's no coincidence that my house faces Rifles at just the right angle so I can sit on my rickety balcony with all the spiders and geckos to watch the waves spin down the entire reef," says Wilcoxen. "You can't tell how ridiculously fast and long that wave is from the boat angle. All you do there is go Mach 10 and look for the barrel. My kind of wave. Sometimes I'd like to trade in my 53-year-old body for a younger version of itself when I'm out there, but it's all good. I had no idea I'd be this lucky to be getting so much tube time at my age."
[This series originally appeared in our August 2012 Big Issue, “The Distant Shores”]