Photographers' Tales

“Fish On The Reef” – Nias XXL Through The Lens of Stefan Götzelmann

Fish on the Reef

Swell of the Year – again. Just a week ago, the whole Indonesian archipelago got smashed by intense waves, accompanied by an even bigger hype. This time though, everything seems to be a bit more serious. Less hype, more power. Spectators on the beach, drones in the air, pros in the water. It is the big show and all the big names are here. Florence, Walsh, Healy – you name ’em. The swell peaks tomorrow, but there is already an incredible amount of water moving around. The power of this swell is outstanding.

Nias Swell
Nias, the best it’s ever been. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann

“In all those years living here, I’ve never
seen something like that.”

Fish get pushed onto the dry reef. “In all those years living here, I’ve never seen something like that”. If something like that comes from a Lagundri local, then you know something special is happening. July 25th. The big day. What appeared yesterday as a big set is now just mid-size. The size of the waves that rumble the bay today is on a whole new level. “Looks like Waimea Bay!” comes from the Hawaiian pros, who came here in classic strike-mission fashion. A fair call, as the waves are feathering even in the deepest parts of the bay. The Keyhole: Closed for the day. The once easy access to the waves is now death zone, forces every surfer to go out down the point and fight the current.

Biggest Nias: throughout midday, only a few waves were ridden. It was just too big most of the time. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann

It’s just unmanageable out there!

But once in the lineup, the guys show what they are here for and a nerve-wracking session starts at early morning with big drops, deep barrels, and heavy wipeouts. But after a while, the waves start to steal the show. Throughout the early day, the waves keep growing and growing and around midday, only a few are ridden. “It’s just unmanageable out there!” comes from a bit frustrated Koa Rothmann.

Read also, Kabunohi Sorake, Nias “We are not another surf camp”

The line-up. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann
Matt Bromley scoring the bomb of the morning. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann

A swell, so powerful that paddling is not possible anymore. Who would have thought that? Incredible. But not only the surfers are struggling with the conditions. A boat, moored at the usually safe zone around the keyhole gets smashed by the waves and dies in spectacular fashion in front of the eyes of a screaming crowd and is later all around the web. The same happens to a handful of canoes deeper in the bay, but without the media attention. Seems like even the wave-proven locals didn’t expect something like that. More than once I hear the word “Tsunami”. Maybe it looked like that when the deadly waves came into the bay back in 2005.

Nias Mark Healy
Mark Healy taking off onto another bomb. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann
Nias Mark Healy
Mark Healy, about to get deep. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann

Later in the evening, it seems that more and more waves get ridable again and the guys start to show epic surfing that might be something for the history books.
The next day. The waves: still gigantic, but now in more manageable conditions. The keyhole: still hectic but with good timing and a bit of luck it’s possible to get into the water in one piece. The water is brown and you can’t see what’s underneath you. I step in every hole in the reef, but luckily, only a minor amount of flesh is left for the crabs. The current: Still heavy, but I manage to stay in position for a while to witness the session. Standouts are the usual suspects: Nathan Florence, Matt Bromley, Mark Healy and Ian Walsh. Together they celebrate the brown chocolate tubes they get
spat out of.

Nathan Florence Nias
Nathan Florence scored by far the most tube time. Saw him standing in the barrel all the time. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann

The beach is devastated, covered with mud, smells like fish. It has the looks of a flooding. The big coral stones on the reef got rearranged. Locals collect fish and mussels that also got victims of this monster swell. Seems there might be a lot of BBQ going on tonight! As the water comes back to normal conditions, its time for a review. What the hell was that? We have sunk boats, injured pros, dead fish on the reef. Matt George calls this a cosmic event.

Nias Swell
Nathan Florence standing tall in another tube. Photo by Stefan Goetzelmann

Yes, this was truly an epic thing. Nobody in living memory has ever seen something like that. In the future, every big swell will be compared to this. It will sound like: “Is this bigger than the July 25th Swell?” Chances are high that these questions are asked not far from now, as the next big thing is already brewing in the southern Indian Ocean. Swells will rise and shatter the reefs of this beautiful archipelago. But this time, without me.

By Stefan Götzelmann

Indo Surf Crew

Indo Surf Crew was first born in the year 2018 as a surf photo & video content creative project while the first surf coaching trip organised by Uriel & Rodrigo happened in 2019 on an island off Sumatra. Since then, they have been running surf coaching retreats for all levels and mostly specialise in surf coaching for intermediate to advanced surfers. Surfing Consciously is our motto. To us it means, bringing awareness to our body, thoughts and interactions – in and out of the water. We take pride in working with eco surf resorts that are acting responsibly in preserving Indonesia’s nature, supporting and educating local communities. Indo Surf Crew was founded by Uriel Jean Armel, a French surfer and film-maker who has taken roots in Indonesia. You can read more about Uriel here, on an interview with Magicseaweed & here during an interview with the Surfing copywriter. As for Rodrigo, he was the first surf coach to join Uriel in his adventure and he’s the founder of the Power Surf techniques – a method that is now practiced internationally to train surf athletes from all over. Power Surf is a land based practice that combines ginastica natural, yoga, capoeira and martial arts, breaking town the fundamental surf techniques through a series of exercises. It also involves video analysis a skate practice for optimal result, which we do during our surf coaching trips.

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