Maldives or Bust!

Written by Jason Andre

Quotes taken from the journal of Richard Prause

     A once in a lifetime boat trip to the Maldives was dreamed up over a period of five years to be a decennial celebration for a mixed bag of ten of my best friends and I. It had been 20 years since the last time Richard Prause and I jumped on an Indonesian boat trip and we couldn't think of a better way to celebrate our 40th birthday. Maldives 2020 was to be a self-gifted 40th birthday present for most of us, as well as a 50th, and a 60th for a couple of the older guys. Instead, COVID-19 postponed the adventure to 2021. Even though the Maldives reopened a week prior to our original departure in 2020, we all agreed it would be unwise to travel 10,000 miles across the planet for fear of getting sick or trapped in a foreign quarantine facility. Another grueling year watching and waiting, being isolated from each other, from our families, and going through the first of many trials while attempting to make this dream trip come true, let alone just survive physically and mentally. The light at the end of the turquoise tunnel began to grow brighter as July approached once again. Unfortunately, my Australian friends became locked down and unable to leave. However, a few other friends here in the States who were previously unable to go now had the time and ability to make it work for 2021.

     “What boards are you bringing?” began nearly every conversation amongst the crew for the months leading up to our new departure date. The goading and banter began flowing on the group texts as anticipation built. This was the ultimate adventure we had all been working up to. After a year and a half of dodging Covid, multiple booked, rebooked, cancelled, and rebooked (again) flights, it was go time. But now, we had raging summer thunderstorms plaguing the US east coast the week of departures. The phrase “someone is trying to tell you something!” repeated in my head over and over as we encountered constant airline antics. The anxiety of leaving our families, jobs, and lives behind for two weeks had everyone equally on edge as excited.

     Anyone who has tried to fly anywhere, nationally or internationally, over the past year is well aware of the nightmares of air travel with airlines consolidating flights and cancelling routes. Positive PCR tests and even Negative PCR tests with an expiration prior to departing flights could potentially strand any one of us at home. Matt and Keith were supposed to arrive first and ended up a day behind us and had to drive to a completely different airport to get out of the country. Cody, Dave, and I drove to DC to jump on our international flight the following day. We thought driving from Wilmington would save us the headache of flying, until we hit stopped traffic through the entire state of Virginia spending over 8 hours (it should have been 5 or 6) in the car together attempting not to lose patience and throttle each other. Richard and Trevor were to rendezvous with us via a flight from Charleston, SC and got to experience a harrowing touch-and-go two-attempts landing in a lightning storm, while narrowly missing another airplane crossing the runway. Delayed connections left Will Klauber having his first panic attack while stuck in JFK after 3 days of just trying to get out of the US. Through sheer will (because that’s his name) and a few prayers (because he’s also a priest), Klauber finally got on an Emirates flight and made it to Malé, the Maldives capital. The rest of the crew would hopefully arrive in Malé three days later to accompany us on a domestic flight  to the southern atolls and ultimately our boat.

     Having finally made it to the airport in DC, all our flights were confirmed and on time. It was the first sign of relief since we booked this trip and all received negative Covid tests. I was super excited to see my friends Richard and Trevor for the first time in almost two years. However, I could sense a tension when we met in DC for our flight across the ocean. Richard had this wild look in his eyes, pursed tight lips, arms folded, and scarily reserved. Typically the relaxed beach dad/backyard shaper, I could tell he was a dormant volcano. But the boiling magma was just below the surface.

   Tensions were eased when we were finally in the air, enjoying a half booked flight on the biggest airplane I've ever seen. The Emirates Airbus A 380 made for a relatively enjoyable flight.

"Drinks are flowing, the food is good and plentiful, the stewardesses are foreign, attractive, and flirty. The plane is half empty. Most people have a row of seats to themselves. Pretty much the exact opposite in every way of domestic US flights. The boys are loving it."

     A 14 hour flight was followed by a sprint through Dubai airport to make our connection, and four more hours later we were finally cruising over the tropical atolls of the Maldives. We arrived in the late afternoon to Malé and were put in a speed boat to the island of Hudhuranfushi, home to the magical left reef break called Lohis (a private all-inclusive limited space surf resort and a goofy footer's paradise). The sun was setting, but as we rounded the corner and threaded the channel between Lohis and Ninjas (the right hander across the channel) to get to the harbor, we got out first glimpse straight into the barrel of a perfect 4-6’ set roping into the Lohi’s reef. It was surreal, as the sun slowly slipped down to the horizon behind us and cast its golden hour glow through the salty haze of the light offshore breeze. Mount Saint Richard, the prehistoric Stokeasaurus from South Carolina, erupted into a frenzied high pitched scream like a broken record spinning at 120 RPM that consisted of only three words…”Oh my god! oh my god! oh my god!” with an occasional “Holy shit! Look at that!” Over and over again, as the rest of our jaws dropped in amazement. All of us could picture ourselves threading the impossibly perfect left hand barrels breaking towards the harbor, which we entered and lost sight of the incoming sets.

"Well, our first glimpse from the boat as we drive into the channel sets off a ‘stoke stroke’ in me and every wave that rises up, breaks, and peels down the reef has me yelling at the top of my lungs ‘OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT, OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THAT’ . I had to apologize to the one family that was on the boat but was not a part of our group, they must have been terrified of the mad man screaming off the side of the boat."

     We all apologized to the only other people on the boat, a nice Scottish family sitting in the front who were not surfers and thought our friend was possibly dying. We had arrived in paradise. Unfortunately, it was too dark to surf by the time we settled in our rooms that night, but Richard didn’t sleep. He walked loops around the entire island and then at the first hint of light paddled out into the darkness and straight into a double over head set wave. He led the charge that marked our first foray into the perfect cobalt colored walls of the Maldives. That first day was the biggest we would surf Lohis and was the perfect warm up for what we would later discover in the southern atolls! The Stokeasaurus was satiated...for now.


     Words have power. In uncanny fashion, unfortunate incidents began to play out as the anticipation grew, and we started to get a little too confident in ourselves and our ability to strong arm our way to the Maldives mid Pandemic. For instance, Richard had bragged about how his previous two weeks in Hawaii paddling to the outer reefs were going to have him in such good paddling shape that he was going to paddle circles around us and catch twice as many waves. The last day of his Hawaii trip, he awkwardly got his arm wedged between the tailgate of his rented minivan and the car parked six inches behind him and broke his wrist. He got a doctors note and a full forearm brace to wear for the entire trip. Matt Skiba and Keith “LeToe” Leroy taunted and bragged to the rest of us that they would be the first to land and in the water, by the time the second group of us arrived. Their flight got cancelled and they had to then drive two hours to another airport the next day, only to arrive to Lohis with onshore high tide conditions that even an east coast surfer would dismiss. We were sure to tell them about how good it was that morning and how they “REEEAALLY missed….ya shoulda been here yestaday mate!”


     After “warming up” at Lohis and the surrounding local reef breaks for a few days, we returned to Malé where everyone else trickled in just in time for our domestic flight to the southern atolls and our floating home. Everyone actually made it! However, on the flight south only two out of eleven board bags we had checked actually arrived on our tiny DASH-8 prop plane. After what seemed like forever on this hot, packed, little cigar of an airplane we landed...and then took off and landed again (apparently there's two "airports" down south). Landing on an island only big enough for an airstrip, we walked off the plane and onto the runway sweating, sore, and jetlagged. We carted our bags that had made it to the only other structure on the island...a boat dock. Although reluctant to board a vessel in the middle of the Indian Ocean without our surfboards, we rode the dinghy over to the Maavahi. She was quite the beauty to behold. An old 85' triple decker live aboard with about a 30' beam. As a strong wind blew a light rain on the deck, we motored into the night to find shelter behind one of the nearby islands. We set anchor with desperate hopes that the rest of our boards would arrive in time to surf the next day.

"Spirits are lifted as we motor to the Maahavi, a yacht outfitted to look like a modern day pirate ship. We are Captain Hook and Sneed. We jump off the top balcony into the dark night waters below. We fish with handlines. We drink beer and rum. Jason catches a red snapper! This boat rocks a lot more than expected. Maahavi means “swell” in the local language. This is a good sign! Our battle cry is heard throughout the night! UP THE FUCKING SWELLIANS!"

     Thankfully, our surfboards showed up via speedboat the following afternoon, though the surf and the wind weren't cooperating just yet.  We spent ten days on an 85' charter in the southern atolls surfing some of the most beautiful left and right hand reef breaks in the ourselves. It seems we had found one of the last bastions of surf travel, where you can actually pull up on a boat to a perfect reeling empty lineup, and it is hiding somewhere in the Maldives. Our local surf guide, Hoobs, navigated us through the pristine clear cerulean waters, sharing his local waves, and his favorite spearfishing haunts. There were only a couple of down days as the occasional and unpredictable equatorial rain/windstorms popped up from time to time. When they did, we introduced our local friend to the card game Crazy 8's in true rum fueled Carolina pirate fashion. It was also fitting that we began blaring the “Ace of Spades” through the onboard PA system every time the wildcard was thrown, much to the chagrin of Dave (the elder of the group who was attempting to nap in his cabin below).

"Blue Bowls -The waves are much larger in the lineup than they appeared from the boat. The waves are shifty and bowling and the reef is colorful and close to the surface. All the boys get some glorious drops through the bowl and tragic wipeouts in the soup. Thankfully, no one gets hurt. I ride my bat tail quad, and it feels sparky through the backside bowls. Hoobs impresses us with his ability to catch a wave with almost no paddling. He is a wizard gliding atop the water. Jason sits far out to sea and catches waves no one else can find, he is liquid snowboarding on his self-shaped twin fin egg. Skiba slices and slashes the powerful bowls with frantic energy, air drops and vertical turns. The wind continues to ease and the tide keeps rising. The waves get cleaner and more organized with each set of waves."

     When the sun came out we were greeted with every shade of crystalline blue water waves. Slight shifts in wind would see us to whichever perfect reef was the most offshore. Caught between wanting to surf the best waves I’d seen in 20 years with wanting to capture photos of my friends catching the best waves some of them had ever seen, I managed to balance the joys of both. It was especially fortunate to have Julian and Cody on board to cover camera duty when I was surfing. Julian and I met over a decade ago in my old home in the Outer Banks when he was a professional photographer, and I was chasing hurricanes as if it was my job. Cody I’ve known since he was a kid and is currently a professional photographer. We managed to capture some epic moments, although some were just etched into our memories when the cameras weren’t rolling and will most likely go down in legendary Carolina Folklore. In either case, I was extremely happy to have them aboard to share waves and photo sessions.

"Love Charms - We wake up in the twilight to an overcast sky and slate blue slick surface seas. We motor to Love Charms and see a wave turn inside out on the outer reef. Expletives abound. HOLY SHIT! NO WAY! FUCK OFF! Another swell peaks ups, folds over, peels down the edge of the reef, and shoots out a puff of smoke before it fades away into the deep water. These waves resemble the images we all love of Cloudbreak off the island of Tavarua in Fiji, one of the most prized waves on earth. Even the reef edge and small coconut palm fringed island on the inside lagoon resembles Tavarua. No one is out. Our crew is excited and nervous. Board bags shuffle as everyone finds the biggest board that they can find. I didn’t bring a big board, this is the Maldives, the waves are small and playful, I can handle anything it throws out on my six foot egg or sub six foot thruster. Not today buddy….who has a board I can borrow?! Cody? Nope I am riding my big board. Dave? Sorry Richard, I need this gun today. Jason, are you riding your Pyzel ghost? No, I’m going to ride my Maurice Cole, it has even more paddle power than the ghost, you can ride the Pyzel. Napolean Dynamite fist pump YESSSSSSS. Skiba cant wait, he leaps off the Maahavi and paddles straight to the lineup alone. Bomb dropping into maxing sets straight away, air dropping into oblivion. He is a madman. A few of us hop in the dingy to be ferried to the lineup. Hoobs comes with us riding my favorite zebra board. We all trade smaller corners and scratch to avoid cleanup sets roaring down the reef. All of us except Hoobs. He seems to never paddle yet he is always in a good position. He drops into the waves late on purpose, holding himself in the top of the wave until the last moment, then driving deep into the bowl of the breaking wave. Unbelievable. He is completely at home in this lineup, toying with the powerful conditions. He is Peter teasing the crocodile. We are the lost boys, cheering him on. Or maybe we are Hook, afraid of the crocodile. His confidence inspires me to push my limits. The pyzel ghost is oversized for me and I am paddling much faster than I am used to. I think that I can match the speed of one of the outside monsters ripping through lineup every thirty minutes. I try a few times, and I am out of position, too far back and I get smoked! Too close to the deep water and I miss the big part of the wave. Each repetition is giving me more confidence and more knowledge of how the waves break on this reef. The perfect one comes and I am in the slot. Paddle hard, trust myself, lean on the Pyzel, stand straight up and enjoy the view. One screaming friend after another wizzes by as I am locked in this temporary hole that has opened up in the ocean. The wave pushes me out with a sting of compressed mist at the end of the reef. Too easy. High Fives and hoots ensue. Then an even bigger wave marches down the reef and churns us up like weeds in a lawnmower. Time for breakfast."

"Five Islands - Hoobs comes by in the dinghy and he has a wild look in his eyes! He shouts ‘get in the boat! We are heading to five islands, it is throwing perfect barrels on every wave!’ On the way he shows us an iPhone video of Skiba getting an impossibly smooth head high shallow barrel! Wow! We arrive to see Skiba do the same maneuver in person. Wow! He is just gorging himself on perfect barrels. A small crew is just watching from the shoulder, the shallow reef too intimidating for them. The water is running off the reef, down below sea level, and then back up the curling wave. The water is pulled so tight and glassy off the shallow reef that you can barely even see the wave when you take off – you just see reef. The wave is a right and I am trying to navigate it with my back to the wave. Some surfers actually like this position better, as you can grab the rail of your board and drag your butt/leg in the face of the barrel to regulate your speed. Well I never really learned that technique and one wrong move in this situation sends you face first into the shallow reef. EEEEKKKK. Skiba gets barrel after barrel. I have to try! Hoobs is also a goofyfoot and says ‘watch me’ then proceeds to get flung over the lip, arms and legs akimbo like a spider monkey flying through a jungle canopy. He ends up standing on the shallow reef, grenades of whitewater exploding all around him! Cut up legs and a buckled surfboard, not exactly the same confidence inspiring performance as Love Charms in the morning. I catch a few waves, always out in front of the barrel, but avoiding the shallow reef. I keep trying larger and larger waves, because a bigger barrel breaks in deeper water and is easier to enter and exit than a smaller tight one. The sun is going down and I have one last chance. The biggest wave that I have tried for yet is lumping up on the reef. All my friends are screaming for me to go. A smooth buttery drop, I try to negotiate my position to enter the barrel but fail again. Just then, the inside section lurches and pitches out in front of me. This section is smaller and shallower than I would like to deal with but I have no where else to go. I pull under the pitching wave but my line is not true. I go up and over with the breaking wave and am thrown flat on my back on the reef (at least it is not my head!). I turn around to see 3 more freight train waves barreling down the reef and there is not enough water on top of the reef for me to duck under the churning whitewater. I get pummeled for around a minute. I see my friends looking over the waves from the safety of deep water with concerned looks on their faces. I hope I make it out of the situation with most of my skin intact! The waves subside and I meet my friends in the deeper water, we climb aboard the dingy to head back to the Maahavi. Wild eyes and excited smiles are on everyone’s faces. That was gnarly! How shallow was that reef?! Skiba was the barrel sensei out there! Hoobs was surfing like a maniac! Ho, Richard how is your back? I dunno, check it out for me. Owww, Ewwww, that doesn’t look good. You are going to need some lime for sure! We celebrate a day well lived with a bottle of Rum. Hoobs calls it “Happy Days” and this becomes our motto. I self medicate my injuries with a little too much rum and have a short blurry night – you will have to ask one of the other guys what was going on that night, but apparently it involved a lot of fun at my expense – including sharpie tattoos and interesting haircuts…"

The crew of the Maavahi were amazing. The captained regaled us with stories and pictures of huge fish he's caught around the area. Chef prepared whatever we caught each day for our meals. Everything from the wahoo Kaluber caught, to the snapper Julian reeled in, to the sweet lips and coral trout Hoobs and I shot. It was a feast every night. We could have done with a little less big eye, but I'm not complaining. "Cowboy" was our soft spoken server from Bangladesh and always made sure he offered more when our our plates were looking empty, "Wan s'more? Sank youuu!" Dinghy Boy was always on standby for a drop off and pickup out in the water, and Cabin Boy kept our rooms clean and tidy. Hoobs of course was just a super stoked grown grommet ready to share all of his local breaks with us.

"Tiger Stripes -A full day of glassy conditions at Tiger Stripes today is a real treat! I surf the morning on my blue thruster and really rip into some of the inside bowls! There are some big barrels on the outside reef and I chase them for a while but come up empty handed, since one only comes through once every 30 minutes and breaks on another reef outside of all the other waves. Skiba had given Hoobs one of his surfboards and Hoobs proceeded to buckle the nose immediately. I spend the afternoon repairing the buckle and also some other dinged boards by hand with no power tools – I am really missing my Milwaukee. For the evening session, I borrow Trevor’s 6’4 egg that I made him for the trip, it is basically just a cruisey paddle machine but with the tail pulled in enough to grip in the bowl. Jason and I sit wayyyy out the back and look for huge glassy wedging peaks to form up near us on the outer reef. The tide is too high for them to barrel, but they are an entry to a long snowboard ride all the way down the reef. AAAAAWWWWOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

     After ten days of amazing adventures on our surf charter, still in the midst of COVID, we all took the mandatory PCR test at the port of one of the local islands. It was required to board our international flights home on the final day. The setting was a bit dark and mysterious, as the nurse was scheduled to meet us around midnight, and a couple of locals meandered around the area. Confined to a small, gated dock area, we waited for the little mobile test vehicle to arrive. The halogen orange streetlights backlit the tiny makeshift ambulance as it passed through the gates into the port. The side door slid open to reveal two nurses in full Tyvek suits with doubled up N95 facemasks and face shields. The nurses did a double nasal/pharyngeal swab which was slightly traumatizing for everyone. After all of us, including Hoobs, got tested we motored back to our anchored vessel.

"Tonight we go ashore to Hoobs’ island GADHDHOO to be tested for COVID-19. A medical truck pulls up to a parking lot in the marina parking lot. This is weird. The technician is covered head to toe in Tyvek and even has a plastic face shield. She must be miserable in the tropical night. She pushes the nose swaps to our brain and we all have a fun time laughing at whoever is up for torture at the moment – gagging, sneezing, and slobbering."

    The final morning we had one last epic session at a wave called Love Charms, where barrels were threaded, boards were broken and Keith LeRoy was renamed "LeToe" when a piece of coral became lodged under his toenail following an epic trip over the falls. What started as a chest to head high fun session, unfolded into one of the best days of the trip. The swell increased throughout the session and some of the final sets that swung through turned consequential. I surfed all of the best waves the guys would let me catch and felt the desire once again to grab the camera and document this epic finale. We must have had close to 50 boards between the 11 of us (including Hoobs). It was really fun to be able to surf some of the most dreamy waves in the world and try all of the flavors of fish, twin fins, eggs, thrusters, with all different fin setups going frontside and backside. Rarely do we get to surf such perfect consistent waves to be able to dial in our equipment and experiment the way we did there. It was also fun to see everyone shake the rust off and progress. I've never seen Julian surf so good in all of the years I've known him. Cody lives on a mountain in Colorado and Trevor is landlocked in Georgia these days, so to see them charging and ripping was  awesome.  In true midlife crises fashion, LeToe and Skiba were on a mission to hurl themselves off of every late ledge they could find, where as Klauber, Kevin, and Dave worked up their confidence and caught some bombs towards the end of the trip. Richard and I were just stoked to be in some real Indian Ocean energy again, paddling out into the lineup like we did 20 years ago. 

"We motor back to Love Charms first thing in the morning.  You have never seen such beautiful waves. Impossibly glassy. Peaking up and tapering off so evenly. No one out. The sun is up high and hot early today. It shines straight through the clear water and lights up the waves with electric colors from the reef below. Just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. This session converted even the unbelieving regular foots – this is the best wave in the island chain. Every wave that comes through this morning is mesmerizing. Most of the waves are head high or little bit overhead and easy to line up and catch. There is still an occasional bomb set that wipes through the lineup. Trevor is on a tear, throwing spray in every direction. Jason is totally frothing – literally foaming at the mouth. Dave catches the most critical wave of his trip (twice!) on Trevor’s board. Kevin gets caught by one of the rogue sets, is pushed into a sandy cave, and comes up to his beloved Maurice Cole broken in half. Skiba, as usual, is getting super radical and also falling from the sky too late on a bomb. Cody catches the wave of the day, a sneaker set that missed the outside reef and doubled up and sucked out on the inside. He made the drop by the skin of his teeth and looked very surprised that he was still alive after regaining his composure. Julian cruises some beautiful rides, as is his custom. Klauber was feeling good on his backhand after 10 days of surfing. I was riding my beloved candy cane fish and felt like Mohammed Ali – float like a butterfly and sting like a bee! Leroy for the first time on the trip appeared timid in the waves, and for the first time in the trip comes up bleeding."


     After the best two week surf trip of my life we departed back to Malé, only to be greeted by unimaginable news…our local tour operators handed Trevor (the “grom” of the group, who also had two young kids and a wife at home counting down the days til their dad came home) and I a positive Covid test. Not knowing what was in store for us or how our families would react, we locked eyes as our stomachs dropped. Was it a false positive? Would we get sick? Would we be locked in a quarantine prison? We sat, bewildered as our friends (all negative) scattered like rats off a sinking ship and left the country on the first flights out.

"Cody gets an ominous Instagram message from Hoobs. Bad news, try to stay calm….Trevor and Jason tested positive for COVID. Hearts sink. Everyone is confused. Are the results accurate? Can we get another test? Does everyone on the boat have to quarantine? Everyone with a negative test result is advised to get on the earliest flight out of Maldives. Escape from Male. Fugitives on the run. We are on the lam. We all get out. Except Trevor and Jason. They have a different fate. They never receive their secondary test results. They are ferried to ‘Fun Island’ - that is the real name, not a moniker. Here they join the legions of the undead also infected. They have 2 weeks, 14 days. I hope they make it out without too much boredom induced trauma."

Trevor and I were told not to go anywhere…We posted up at the hotel I had originally reserved for our overnight in Malé. With masks on and a feeling of helplessness, I formulated a plan. I wanted a second opinion, I would need to establish communication with family and friends back home, and I was really hungry. The little 6 room "hotel" didn't have wifi or food. Trevor was wild eyed and restless. Rather than sit around let our minds torture us, we walked down the street to a local clinic and got another PCR test which we were told would have results back in 6 hours. We found a phone shop where we got SIM cards and data plans to be able to use our phones from wherever we ended up. Then we found some pizza. As we sat waiting for our food, Trevor confessed he'd fended off at least two panic attacks since we left the airport. He was already missing his wife and two kids pretty badly, not to mention a fairly demanding job that expected him home soon.

     Those six hours were some of the most stressful anxiety induced hours of my life. We had no idea where we were going, if we would get sick, if we would ever see our families again. There's some crazy shit that runs through your head when you're 10,000 miles away in a foreign country and you have no choice. When hundreds of thousands of people have died from an illness that you now have. Trevor almost instantly developed what seemed like a psychosomatic light cough when we received our results. Neither of us had any other symptoms, but the fear of the unknown had us both pretty rattled. We each took turns calling home and through nervous trembles explained the situation. The heaviness was only compounded when I could hear Trevor's six year old wailing through the phone and from behind a sliding glass door as he was told his daddy wasn't coming home yet. The poor lad had been counting down the days to see his best friend again. 

     We waited until 10pm that night for an open bed truck to pick us up, board bags and all, and were driven through the dimly lit streets of the Maldivian capital. All we knew was we were being taken to a boat which would take us to an island 26 miles from Malé. We arrived to a dingy unlit marina with a covered walkway. A few people loitered about. This was not the fancy bustling tourist dock that greets you with a "Welcome to the Maldives"  sculpture as you walk out of the airport. This was where unsavory characters spend their nights hustling and side eying strangers as we were led to the only boat tied to a cleat. Two men in full tyvek, masks and faceshields greeted us and welcomed us aboard. This looked like the same exact boat we boarded on our first day on the way to Lohi's, but it was not.

     After the longest boat ride of my life, still feeling sick to my stomach and trying to hold it together along with Trevor, we arrived around midnight to "Fun Island Resort" (yes, that's the actual name) for two weeks of quarantine. A golf cart with two more biohazard-ready locals drove us down the length of the backside of the island. Our vitals were checked, and we were given the orientation. It was 1 am by the time we fell asleep in our little bungalow. 

     As we began sharing the news with our friends and families and jobs back home the next day, we attempted to build up the mental resilience of what the next couple weeks would look like for us. Thankfully, we were both asymptomatic the whole time, and felt strong and healthy after two weeks of surfing some of the best waves in the Indian Ocean. To curb the anxiety, we started a daily workout routine, did daily beach sweeps on our 100-yard swath of beach on the backside of the atoll, and built a Quarantine countdown calendar out of broken coral. The monotony ate away at us despite our best efforts. I can safely say I left a few marbles on Fun Island. We both left about 10 or 15 pounds there as well. Whether it was from the workouts, the stress, or the meager rice and curry in a tin tray every day, we both came home skinnier and thankful for the variety and accoutrements afforded to us in the United States.

     It's hard to sum up those two weeks of staring at the same palm tree everyday. "It could've been a lot worse" seems fitting. We had the freedom to meander around our little 10 cabana portion of the island. The staff was friendly, even when we did test the boundaries of the lazily tied CAUTION tape holding us in our pen. We learned that our "captors' weren't local at all, but a team of doctors and nurses from India. We met our neighbors who had also been put there against their will, and they came from all over the world...Spain, France, Russia, Nigeria, Iraq and even the US. Our friendships were short lived though as everyone did their 14 days starting at different times. It was interesting to see how differently people reacted to their isolation. Some travelling solo were in a pretty dark place. Others were with their friends and made the most of it by laying out and getting a good tan, swimming, snorkleing in the shark infested barrier reef off the beach, playing volleyball, or just pacing back and forth like real zombies.

     As far as staying busy, we did have a movie channel which recycled all of the best 90's and 2000's action movies, I was able to start editing photos and videos of the surf trip, and we even swam out to play with the sharks and rays surrounding the island once or twice, although they did get unusually aggressive. The first couple of days were nice and I flew the drone around, exploring our island from above without any barriers. I found manta rays, stingrays, sharks, and sea turtles from above.  The weather did not stay pleasant though. The equivalent of a tropical storm sat on us for several days. The howling winds and torrential downpours beat the tin roof of our cabana, which did not help with sleeping at night. I actually tried to surf the 40 mph onshore wind chop one day at the height of my delirium. Trevor, during his daily shell hunting mission discovered a jaw bone, which I would then excavate to reveal an entire dolphin skeleton. Once every few days a man would walk around the entire complex pushing a wheelbarrow containing an engine blowing some cloud of insecticide which would permeate the jungle behind us and get carried by the wind through our bathroom windows and under our bedroom doors. My mind wondered if this was to keep the mosquitos down, or keep us hostages pacified. I avoided it either way and welcomed the stiff ocean breezes into our room to clear it out. I even played a little volleybal with the Spaniards and Russians.

     The food sucked. There is no other way to describe it. Breakfast was a cold aluminum box with cold rubbery eggs, a quarter of a stiff cold waffle, and some sort of mystery meat. Oh, and cold stale toast. A second tin would contained some chopped fruit which was more than welcomed at that point. Lunch and dinner was either fish (big eye I'm assuming) curry, and rice, a denigrated poor excuse for a hamburger, or 4 servings of pasta with a pound of mystery meat and a red or white sauce. Some meals never arrived, some meals were not the meals we had ordered, but by the end of the two weeks I had the kitchen trained and resorted to rice and curry for every meal...breakfast was still one cold pancake. 

     One of the saving graces that kept me motivated and out of complete despair was a gift my neighbor Tim had given me the night before I had left home, while packing in my garage. Interestingly, I hadn't opened it until that domestic flight from Gadhdhoo, but I'm glad I had waited. Matthew McCaughnhey's "Greenlights", an honest and fascinating autobiography, was the spiritual guidebook I never knew I needed. An actor that we have all admired (or maybe not) at one time or another,  has lived an incredibly fascinating life. This introspective look into his approach and philosophies would be the motivation I needed to keep my mind in tact and dig deep into my own outlook on life. Armed with this fresh perspective and morning coffee on the front porch of our cabana on Fun Island, I think I went a little crazy in a good way. It fueled some really good deep conversations with Trevor about "Life, the universe, and everything..." 

     On our checklist of things to do while quarantined, booking our flights home was the priority. The silver lining appeared towards the end of our stay as we realized that due to flight availability we would have a solid day between our release and our flight home. Trevor then revealed to me that his 35th birthday was our day of release. What better way to celebrate, than to head back to Lohis for one more hurrah?! The weather had been pretty nasty while quarantined, with frequent tropical storm-like conditions, and howling twenty to thirty mile per hour winds which would have affected all of the surf breaks in the area poorly. When we arrived at Lohis however the wind, although not perfect, had backed off significantly and turned slightly in our favor. The guides and guests were stoked at how much the conditions had improved from the previous two weeks. Despite our room not being available when we arrived that morning, we tore open our board bags in the middle of the resort lobby and sprinted to the top of the break for an 8-hour surfathon. Solid six foot perfect lefts rolled across the crescent shaped reef. If there was a little leftover bump from the wind, it didn’t phase us. That session may not have been the best waves of the trip, but it was one of the most welcomed, celebrated and special sessions of our time there. Fully frothed out of our minds, and after a couple of well-deserved birthday beers, we awoke early in the morning to make our way home. Forty-eight hours of flights later, we finally touched down on home soil, exhausted, and thankful. It was exactly a month from when we had left. And just for the added flair of drama, mother nature threw in one last curveball as we dodged and landed behind Hurricane Fred as he passed through Atlanta. My wife’s probably never going to let me leave the house again…but I think I'm ready to go back!