Feature

Nihiwatu: In surf slang, it might mean ‘nirvana’

Two decades after discovering Sumba and a surfing wave like no other, Claude Graves and his family are the only Westerners living permanently alongside this Indonesian island’s 400 tribal villages.

Former Jersey Shore guy Claude Graves doesn’t share his world-class surf wave with just anyone, said Adam Fisher in The New York Times. Two decades after discovering Indonesia’s Sumba, Graves and his small family are the only Westerners living permanently alongside the residents of the island’s 400 tribal villages, and the do-it-yourself developer has become the “benevolent dictator” of the “widest, most immaculate” white-sand beach imaginable. He also owns—almost literally—the “large and hollow wave” that “peels perfectly” from the azure sea in front of the sand-floored pavilion where he dines most evenings. His rules: never more than 10 people in the water at a time, and never more than 30 guests at Nihiwatu, the lavish and exclusive resort that he and his wife created from scratch and now call home.

My fellow guests at Nihiwatu included an Hermès heir, a countess, and a Californian surf pro, all of whom “begged me to keep their place a secret.” They have a lot to hide: “The diving and snorkeling are spectacular” at the resort, “the fishing is world-class, and there is plenty to do on land—mountain biking, trekking, yoga, massages.” After dinner, there’s always a small crowd at the pavilion’s bar, where Graves happily regales guests with “story after story” about the islanders. A year before he arrived, 2,000 warriors faced off in a tribal war right on Graves’s beach. Headhunting is rare among the locals now, but not unheard of. Still, Graves encourages his guests to venture out and get to know them.

He’s not kidding. Graves works closely with the island’s residents, who represent “one of the last Stone Age cultures on Earth.” Rather than spending their lives lolling on the beaches, they prepare for what awaits them in the afterlife by quarrying 20-ton blocks of stone, hauling them with vines to their villages, and carving them into “great sarcophagi.” Graves already has a team of carvers working on his own. Until that funeral stone is called into service, he can keep setting rules for “one of the best surf breaks in Indonesia, maybe even the world.” And he can dream of adding to his self-sustaining and highly exclusive resort. He’s already growing the bamboo he’ll need for the next phase. “Tree houses,” he says, “up in the canopy.”

Contact: nihiwatu.com

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