Telo // Indonesia

ˈteläs,ˈtē-/ noun PHILOSOPHY literary — an ultimate object or aim.

It’s 224 days into our journey, Annie and I are all by ourselves, sitting on our surfboards, in crystal clear water, at a perfect left-hand reef break, surfing wave after wave after wave, and it finally feels like we found our telos.

Fittingly, we are in an island chain of Indonesia centered around Telo Island, and oft called, Telos.

We didn’t plan that. In fact, I didn’t book our accommodations here until a couple weeks before, but it was our telos – our ultimate aim – to be together, now and forever. Allow me to fill you in…

Throughout our journey, Annie and I traded off planning responsibilities. Sometimes one person handled travel while the other planned activities, sometimes one person just laid out a whole plan for a country/region… in this case, I booked Indo.

When first planning this entire trip, Indo was at the top of my list. It’s “mecca for surfers,” and I was hell-bent on surfing some perfect, and consistent, warm-water waves. Annie knew it, knew I’d been doing my homework, and let me plan it out. Of course, I had an ulterior motive, but we’ll get to that.

Our journey began with a looooooong day of flights from Hanoi (Vietnam), to Singapore, to Jakarta (Indonesia), to Padang (a small city in Western Sumatra (still Indonesia). We had a couple nights there during which we needed to buy surfboards/gear and then catch our transport out to the islands. We arrived at our hostel in Padang late at night. Didn’t matter because everyone was awake trying to fix the electricity, which was out. No lights, or more importantly, AC in our room for the night. Oh well, we were used to sweaty sheets by now. We went to bed, planning to sleep in.

But around 5:50AM, it felt as if the bed, the room, the whole house was shaking… and it was! We didn’t know it yet, but it was a full-blown earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5! Once we realized what was going on, we ran downstairs and outside to see the other guests collecting in a sleepy stupor. The hostel manager – a young Indonesian guy – assured us everything is fine… of course, he said that while wearing his backpack full of valuables, sitting on his motorcycle… with the engine running. “Fine” indeed. We spent a while researching what to do (neither of us had ever been in an earthquake before) and settled on staying outside for a long while. Turns out the quake was far away enough that it didn’t do much damage, but hell it was scary. (Did I mention Annie had been freaking out about earthquakes and tsunamis for weeks since seeing that movie The Impossible? Yeah, this didn’t help).

Annie. Not happy about the earthquake. Hostel manager, assuring us everything’s ok (while wearing his backpack and starting his motorcycle).

Back to Padang. It’s not much of a city and the only reason anyone goes there is to jump off to a boat charter for surfing. There are some cool little restaurants here and there, and the people are friendly (they love practicing their English with tourists, especially the kids). Unfortunately for us, and despite the trail of surfers coming through the area, there is only one surf shop in the whole city… and we were on a mission to surf… and we didn’t have boards. Right.

I’d been doing a ton of homework — trying to find boards to buy secondhand etc, but no luck. We had to just try out the shop. Luckily, they had three boards that were good for us and we bought all of ‘em… this was three out of the eight boards they had in the entire shop! Lucky us. Super cheap, used, but good enough. We were stoked.

We spent a day prepping gear and sending final emails before going off the grid, and then we were on our way. A bus to the airport, an eight passenger prop pane to Telo Island, a moto-taxi ride, and then finally, a 45 minute boat ride to our surf resort.

Our resort was awesome. Accustomed to our budget backpacking, Annie had no idea that I’d booked us a really nice place as a treat for our final destination. The island itself was tiny, the resort too, just a bunch of people (99% guys) eager to surf some great waves. The staff was also top-notch. From the cooks to the guides to the owners, everyone was super friendly, professional, and fun to be around.

We ditched our bags, grabbed some lunch, and then prepped our boards for our first session. There weren’t waves on our island. We always took a boat out to surf, but that was more than cool with us. Each day, hopping on the boat for a beautiful cruise out to a new break, or a new favorite, finding the best waves for the given conditions.

My first wave in Indo.

The surf guides work with the other resorts and boats in the area, so that each spot isn’t too crowded. If we showed up to a spot and other people were in the water already, we’d radio to their boat, ask how long they’d been in and give them some more time on their own before paddling out. That made a huge difference in overall experience and vibe. Even if we did share a break with other groups, the lineup is really respected. No one drops in on one another, no one wastes waves. The attitude is generally “there are plenty of waves” and thus no need to compete as we do at our home breaks, especially in NYC.

The waves are also more powerful, and carry greater consequences as they all break over coral reefs. Reefs can cut you up, and give you a nasty infection. Thus, a bad wipeout in Indo is significantly more dangerous than in Rockaway where it’s a sand bottom.


Admittedly, we were a bit cautious at first. Not only did we know the reefs were there, but the water is so crystal clear, you can see every coral head as you paddle into each wave. It’s such a weird experience, coming from NYC where our water is often dark brown, or maybe murky blue-green at best.

Annie getting comfy on her new board in new waves.

But after a few waves, we started to get a feel for the power of Indonesian swell, the ride of our new boards, and the stoke that comes from surfing perfect waves in an island paradise. Each day we hit a new spot, improved our surfing, had lots of laughs with new friends James, Justin, Rufus, Brayo, Robbie, et al… it was perfect.

Speaking of perfect… about that ulterior motive.

Eight months of constant international travel is a pretty solid challenge for any couple, but I knew before we left that I would propose somewhere along our journey… it just turned out that Indonesia made the most sense. In the ocean. Tropical paradise. The end of the trip.

I worked out a plan with, Robbie, one of the surf guides, and the other guests even knew – sitting out an afternoon session so we could have the boat to ourselves. Robbie took us to a cool little sand-spit island that only shows at low-tide and offered to take our photo if we swam over there. We jumped at the chance, swam over, goofed around, and then I took a moment to get serious and drop to a knee. After the initial shock, we shared a long embrace, a kiss to confirm, and the joy that we’d found our telos.

At a glance:

  • Surf… in Indonesia. If you do one epic surf trip in your life, make it Indo.
  • Bring… your own boards. We were fine with what we bought, but really would’ve liked to have our own boards – correct volume, feel etc.
  • Wear… sunblock (zinc), a rashie, and at a lot of breaks, reef booties. My feet definitely hit reef a few times and I was glad I had the boots. No cuts or infections for me.
  • Cash… is king in the islands. You’ll probably pre-pay for a trip like this, but cash is good for tipping guides etc.

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