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Surfing the Telos Islands: Shipwrecked in Paradise


The True Story of the Shipwrecked Sea Hearts


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It’s 8:30 AM on a sunny Sunday morning. I’m sitting on the couch in San Diego, California, nursing my three month old son. I do a double take of this message as it jumps on to my screen. I can’t comprehend what I am reading. Is this a joke? Am I losing my mind? No normal person would make a joke like this. This must be the real deal.

Just hours before, as I slept many time zones away, a group of Sea Hearts departed Padang, Indonesia for our first ever Telo Islands Take Over at Surfing Village. The ship was owned and operated by an Indonesian maritime company and had done this particular voyage more than thirty times this year alone.

I crossed this strait of Indian Ocean to the Telos Islands on this boat before. To me, the ship seemed incredibly heavy, made entirely of wood, like a small, highly durable floating city. On that trip, we chugged through the night while my 2.5 year old daughter and I slept soundly on one of the bunks below the deck. We awoke early the next morning and watched dolphins as they shadowed our boat all the way to the island surf camp.

I was supposed to be on this boat with the girls. Fortunately, the Surfing Village team and I decided that the trip was too much for my family and I to undertake in light of the new baby.

This twist of fate would mean I wasn’t present for this terrifying event, but it would also mean my Sea Hearts would end up stranded on a deserted island in the middle of the Indian Ocean nowhere near their destination in the Telos Islands.

If you’d like to learn more about their final destination, Surfing Village, check out our Surfing Village Telos Islands Guide.

Surfing the Telos Islands, girls ended up shipwrecked
The ship resting on the reef.

After about thirty seconds, my mind finally registered the realness of the event. I also realized I was the first responder even though I was on the other side of the planet. I sounded the alarm. I WhatsApp’ed everyone I could at Surfing Village to wake up. I talked to the girls’ Medivac insurance company in the U.S every hour. I messaged the ground crew in Padang. Despite all my communication attempts, hours passed. For both the Surfing Village staff and the expert medical evacuation company, it proved difficult to reach the Indonesian Coast Guard Search and Rescue Team in Padang in the middle of the night.

All along I received messages from the girls. No one was injured but all were cold, wet, and scared. The ship had hit a reef just two hours after leaving Padang and because of their proximity to land, they still had reception. Several girls had new iPhones that proved to truly be water resistant so they were able to mark and send their location on Google maps. They anxiously awaited the rescue team while they watched the boat crew secure the ship with its anchor.

I later found out that when the ship hit the reef, the crew and its passengers initially panicked but soon leapt into action. The women donned life jackets and jumped overboard in fear of the boat toppling on its side under the weight of the crashing waves outside of the reef. Despite the darkness, they swam to the shore of a small island about 20 meters away. On the isle, the girls’ deserted island experience began. They discovered a small fishing shack and built a fire to keep warm through the night. Huddled together by the fire, they tried to sleep until help arrived.

Surfing the Telos Islands
The shipwrecked camp.

Meanwhile, I was in California on the phone to everyone and anyone who would listen. Medivac said absent a life threatening injury, the Indonesian Coast Guard had jurisdiction. Simultaneously, Paulo, the original founder and owner of Surfing Village, who was in the Telos Islands, was ringing Padang and organizing the rescue mission. He arranged for the Search and Rescue team to come for the castaways at first light to avoid hitting a reef before they could reach the girls. In the morning, the Search and Rescue boat picked up all the passengers and returned them to Padang where alternate travel plans were coordinated.

Why Go on a Surf Retreat At All?

Many women come to the Sea Hearts Surf Club to overcome fear. Most need a break from routine to feel alive, engrossed in an adventure. They seek the sort of change that only comes through adversity. They want to see remote places like the Telos Islands. Surfing provides so many of us with a personal proving ground; an arena custom tailored by nature to test our individual abilities and idiosyncrasies. That’s what these trips are all about: invoking challenges and learning the tools to cope with adversity and stress.

Normally, we do this by working on our mental game outside of the water and then testing our education in the surf. However, this unanticipated crisis really upped the ante and created an opportunity for our Sea Hearts to test what they are made of in a way no one could have planned.

To explain why they needed to seize this opportunity, I must borrow an antidote sourced by Morgan, one of the shipwrecked Sea Hearts. Morgan wrote, “Sahd Guru once talked about how strange he found it when people said, ‘pray that nothing happens to me.’ On the contrary, he would reply, I pray everything happens to you and know the fullness of yourself through fully experiencing life.”

The bottom line is that we don’t know how strong we can swim until we are thrown into the deep end. If nothing ever happens to you, if you never take any risks, you will stay the same. When you dive in headlong and really go for it, you may not always get what you expected but you’ll never be unsatisfied. In other words, no FOMO. You don’t know until you go. If your ship crashes into the reef in the middle of the night, how do you want to react?

At our Surfaris we aim to teach our guests to always be calm, collected, ready to act, and able make the most of the situation whether you’re surfing bigger waves or stuck on a tiny island in remote Indonesia. Our fear training for surfing has an unexpected side effect: you’ll likely be ready for anything life throws at you. However prepared we are, everyone has a personal choice to make: let the unforeseen circumstances ruin your vibe or thrive and make the most of an unplanned adventure. Ultimately as stoic philosopher Seneca put it, “a good person dyes events with his own colour… and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.”

Surfing the Telos Islands After Survival

The women who continued on to Surfing Village in the Telos Islands showed their true colors by getting on a speed boat the next day and making the crossing. Not only were they rewarded with a pumping swell, they diminished the residual effects this event would have on their psyche. As you read in the Sea Heart’s post about getting over previous negative memories, the best way to move on from something that scared you is to get back out there and do it again. Bad wipeout, catch another wave. Shipwreck, get back on another boat.

Read more about surfing in the Telos Islands in our review of Surfing Village.

Pasti cooking

Thank you so much to Team “Survivors” and to everyone who coordinated the rescue.

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