Video: Justis St. John/@kanduiresort
Meet The Guy Who's Surfed Empty Kandui, Bank Vaults, Hideaways, Etc. For The Past Four Months
A different kind of covid experience.
Anthony Fillingim is a pro-ish surfer from Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.
He's also one of the luckiest humans on earth, having spent the entire covid episode (thus far) hunkered down on what's commonly regarded as the most wave-rich island chain in the world...in its prime surf season.
Since early March, Anthony has been stationed on Kandui Island, which is just south of Siberut in Indonesia's Mentawai Islands. Some of the waves on and surrounding Kandui include: Nokandui, Rifles, Ebay, Pitstop, Bank Vaults, Hideaways, Playgrounds, et cetera, ad nauseam. Due to covid and the subsequent Mentawai shut-down, Anthony has been surfing all of these waves alone (or with one or two other people) for the past four months.
Excuse the lazy metaphor/nearby wave allusion, but this is surfing's ultimate playground, and Anthony's had it to himself for almost half-a-year. Jealousy is the initial reaction, but then you actually start to feel bad for the guy, as nothing in else in life will compare to this brief, beautiful moment in time. But hell, it'll make for some good stories when he's old.
Below, we had a chat with Anthony about how this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came to be, and what he's taken away from it (besides 4,000 tubes and a killer tan).
Stab: So, what brought you to Kandui in the first place? Were you meant to be a surf guide, or were you just going on a trip?
Anthony Fillingim: Last year, I had my first trip to Kandui with a couple friends from Costa Rica. We scored fun surf but didn't get what we were hoping for. That just made me more frothing to get back. Early this year, I received an email from Kandui Resort Manager, Ray Wilcoxen, asking if I was up for shooting a quick video project focusing on the surf in the early part of the Mentawai season. So of course I said yes.
So have you been at Kandui Resort this whole time?
That's right. My original plan was to stay for a couple weeks until we had the footage they needed and then jump around Indonesia for a couple months. I decided to take a break from the WQS this year and just focus on freesurfing and stacking clips and was stoked to spend some time in this part of the world. Once the world started closing down with the virus, Ray asked me if I wanted to stay on and surf with his family and try to shoot this area with no one around. Ray, his family, and his local crew have been insane and have made me feel like family.
When did you get to Kandui? And how did you decide to stay versus heading home to Costa Rica?
I arrived at Kandui Island on March 17th and after only 5 days, the Indonesian government announced they were shutting down the border. Costa Rica also recommended that its citizens return home.
It seems like such an easy decision to stay, but I was a bit nervous about what to do since I didn't have an idea of when I would be able to leave Indonesia and return home to Costa Rica. After talking with Ray, I made the decision to stay and I've never been happier in my life! I miss my family, friends, and hometown of Santa Teresa a lot, but I'm able to talk with them every day. Knowing they are safe makes all the difference in the world when you're this far away.
Ok, let's get real. The Ments issued a surf ban in April but you weren't actually sitting on the island watching perfect waves roll through all that time, were you?
When Indonesia announced the surfing ban in April, it was pretty heavy since April, May and June are three of the better months of the year out here, and to sit here watching perfect waves would be torture.
It's a delicate situation out here, and Ray has been in constant contact with the Mentawaian Government the entire time. After Ray spoke with the government, we were able to get a couple sessions in our direct area but we needed to really be smart on how we did it. We're super isolated on Kandui Island, far away from the Mentawaian villages, so we posed no risk to the Mentawaian community.
It's such a scary time in the world and Ray has been so good about ensuring that this island is about as safe as possible. The surfing ban was lifted on June 20 and we've been surfing all day, every day since.
What waves have you been surfing the most? Do you have a surf buddy?
It really depends on the winds, but mostly Bank Vaults, Hideaways, Pistols and Kandui Left when there’s swell.
On the smaller days, we would go over to Burger World or Nipussi, and then 4bobs every evening out front. I've been mostly surfing the bigger stuff with Ray, and it's mind-blowing to watch how good he is in barrels—he'll be 62 next week (see video above for a recent session of Anthony and Ray at Bank Vaults)!
His eldest son, Dylan has really stepped it up this year and is starting to trail his papa out on the bigger days. Dylan is hands down the best 11-year old I've seen surf and it's been so sick to help him progress this year and watch him froth out.
The resort also had one guest, Tomek Niewiadomski, stay on with me during the entire shutdown. Tomek is from Poland and is epic. He's a beginner and it's been nice to spend some time with him and help him progress also.
What's it like surfing these perfect (and occasionally treacherous) waves with no one out?
It’s an honor and privilege to surf some of the best waves in the Mentawais with no one out. It's such a tough time in the world, and Ray and I talk about what is going on all the time. Ray says it best: "It would be criminal to not only not surf, but to not document what has been going on out here."
Like the rest of the world, the Mentawai economy has been crushed, and Kandui has been one of the few resorts in this area that has kept its staff on and working. We're working on a YouTube series that is going to focus on the last couple months, and Ray really hopes that it gets people pumped to return to Indonesia so everyone can get back to work. But with that said, surfing this area alone is something I'll remember for the rest of my life.
Any interesting stories we should know about? Surfing or otherwise.
I did have a shocker at Bank Vaults, where I went over the falls and had my board take a chunk out of my leg. Pretty interesting experience finding someone out here that could do staples—they are hard to come by! It took me out of the water for a couple weeks, but overall minor to what can happen out here.
How's your sex life been? Any suitable partners on the island, or have you gone fully celibate throughout covid?
[Laughs] Sex life has been pretty quiet around an island that’s isolated like this. It's been great to focus on my surfing, health, and dedicate 100% to progression. But with that said, I'm going to be heading home soon and am looking forward to some human contact.
What do you do on the flat days—are there flat days?
This area is nuts since it really never goes flat! But when it does get small, we do a little bit of yoga and daily workouts to keep fit and loose. I also love cruising with the grommets. Dylan is the biggest fish-frother on earth, and we play soccer every evening with all of them.
Overall, are you glad you stayed?
It’s been the best decision I’ve made in my life. I feel like I’ve become a better surfer and person! I have no words to describe the appreciation that I have for Kandui and everyone else. I really want to thank Ray Wilcoxen and his family. He didn't know me before last year—he had no reason to help me out, and he's treated me like his family. I'm super close with my family back in Costa Rica and to have Ray's family treat me like one of their own is something I've never forget.