It's safe to say that surf adventurer Anthony Marcotti has blurred the line between business and pleasure.
Almost a decade ago, Anthony, a teacher at the time, set out to Indo in search of pristine paradise and an escape into the wilds that everyone's favourite archipelago holds. Some years later, and Tony founded Kandui Resort and has welcomed more than 12,000 surfers over.
Hell, Marcotti even keeps a piece of reef from his favourite surf break, Rifles, on his desk and in his car at all times. It’s symbolic of the central role that reef has played in a life devoted to the quest for the perfect wave.
Anyway, catching up with Marcotti is always a trip – and right here he talks setting up a resort, fights in the lineup and whether the future of surf exploration has been tapped out. Dig in.
When did you first head out to Indonesia?
In the year 2000 I was 25 and teaching 5th Grade. During our summer break I took my first trip to Bali, G-Land, and the Mentawai Islands (view forecast HERE). The plan was to go to G-Land for the first week, Bali for the second week, and then meet up with some friends in the Mentawais for the last two weeks.
At G-Land, the waves were absolutely throttling but it was really crowded. I kicked out over a closeout section and nearly ran a guy over who had punched through the wave and had just broke the surface. It was a close call but there wasn’t any contact. Right when I started to apologise to this guy, almost without hesitation, paddled over to me and cracked me right in the jaw and started yelling and splashing water at me while six of his buddies paddled over to emphasise the point.
That was a scary situation and one that seemed to happen more back in those days. I didn’t want to stick around after that and headed back to Bali a few days early.
When I got back to Bali the waves and weather were pretty marginal so I had the bright idea I was going to try bungee jumping. On the way there, my motorbike handlebars got clipped in a narrow alleyway by another motorbike sending me straight into a jagged wall, destroying the bike, my shoulder, my nose. I can remember just looking up in a daze, halfway buried in a filthy gutter and seeing 20 Indonesians trying to help me up; all talking at the same time.
Sounds heavy. Did that put an end to the trip, or did you try and push through?
I had about three or four days to recover before I was supposed to go to the Mentawais. That downtime trying to recover made me grow homesick and miss my family and I was so close to pulling the pin and cancelling the Mentawais.
But in the end I didn’t want to let my friends down so I flew up to Bengkulu, Sumatra and despite being on a rickety old fishing boat with our surf guide, a crusty Australian dude named Keith, we proceeded to have the surf trip of a lifetime.
The boat we were on was so sketchy but the sense of adventure, the vulnerability, that initial feeling of seeing the islands in the distance that first morning to surfing uncrowded waves, it was exactly like September Sessions but even better. I haven’t seen Keith since that trip but constantly think back and thank him for that experience, that trip changed the course of my life.
And then you came home and went back out right? Did that second trip live up to your expectations?
It exceeded them. This trip was different, though. The boat we were on was slightly better but we also lucked into a once-in-a-decade swell that coincided with perfect weather.
While the first trip focused on the southern end of the Mentawai Islands, this one was focused on the northern end. Every spot was maxing out and perfect. These massive swells were infiltrating every nook and cranny imaginable and we surfed a new spot every day. You’d take the boat from island to island and drift over these moving mountains of water that were taller than the boat.
On that trip I became friends with the surf guide who was building his own boat and we made plans to lock down next summer’s trip with him.
And did that sow the seed for promoting trips?
To make a long story short and, like a lot of trips back in those days, if you were able to organise a full group there was a good chance you could get your spot for free or for a good discount.
As a teacher, any way to save some money was a bonus. I also knew how to build websites and offered to create an online identity for the new boat which turned into starting a new business as an agent for the new boat, which turned into taking out a line of credit at the bank and becoming a part owner in the new boat. I was chasing the dream.
The first website I built was pretty crude when I look back at it but very informational and it was well received. Based off that website we started to represent other local style boats and by the following year we had six boats on the website and the business somehow just took off.
So, how did the surf charter business evolve into creating Kandui Resort?
From 2002 to 2005 we had some amazing years. 50 plus boat trips, everything was going really well and attracting a lot of attention. The Mentawais were still fairly fresh and new.
I continued to go over to Indonesia, this time for longer stretches meeting all the boat owners and going on surf trips. But nothing really added up on the business side.
We should have been making money but there always seemed to be a problem with our boat that required fixing, some big expense would come out of the blue, nothing seemed to add up.
But we had momentum and supposedly, the local government wanted to enact a policy that regulated the amount to boats out there to 30 total.
These 30 boats would be spread out over 5 companies who were responsible for 6 boats, and each company would also have the right and responsibility to develop a land based option to stimulate the local economy as part of some tourism plan. We started Kandui Resort almost out of necessity not because we had a grand plan we were trying to follow.
But were there still some warning signs?
You don’t notice them when you’re in the middle of it. The thrill and excitement of finding new partners, buying an island, and creating a new venture caused us to repeat the same mistakes as before.
We did not have a clear business plan, we failed to properly outline each partner’s expectations, we took bad advice and made it worse. We created a local company instead of a structure that would have protected our rights the proper way.
It’s that lack of planning and lack of clear communication that caused massive headaches and legal issues years later and so much unnecessary turmoil behind the scenes. We’ve got the greatest opportunity in the world, something that should’ve been the greatest joy any of us would ever do and it was tainted from the beginning by a lack of basic communication.
Were you still teaching at this time?
I had actually stopped teaching in 2004 to pursue surf travel full time. And it was a struggle. Like i mentioned before, despite all of the success with the local boats we were not making any money, at least not enough to survive and I was struggling to make ends meet at home.
Martin [Daly] had noticed the impact I was making, the editorial opportunities I was generating with magazines and websites, and right when I was thinking I might have to go back to teaching he offered me the job of a lifetime as his worldwide booking manager.
It was surreal and I jumped on it. He wanted me to develop a new website for him which I had become much better at, handle all inquiries, invoicing, flights, and customer relations. And I think it was about a month later I was invited on the Indies Trader IV myself to see the operation in person with a great group of guys from Sydney for another incredible swell. I am forever grateful for that whole scenario.
What do you enjoy the most about your role as a surf travel agent and owner?
It’s one of the few jobs in the world that when I call someone to take a deposit or collect a balance for a trip people actually get happy!
I love talking about surfing and sharing my experiences to help make other people’s experience as safe and informed as they can possibly be.
I’ve sent 12,000 people on trips now and I’d hope that I am great resource to utilise for a surf trip anywhere in the world, because I’ve been to all of those places now and have seen how the best operations are managed, and I can explain how to prepare for trips but most importantly go over the forecast and give first-hand knowledge of all the waves they will encounter.
How has the stereotypical surf travel customer changed over the years?
A lot has changed. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s there were a lot more core groups of friends who would take a yearly trip together and were super dedicated to exploring new areas and surfing new waves. It was really easy to manage groups like that and these groups had the budget to enjoy higher level vacations.
The paradigm has shifted a bit. It feels way more difficult to find large groups to fill up a boat or resort now. More people are traveling with their girlfriends, wives, and families. All of the core guys from the past have slowed down significantly and the next generation can’t afford to take 17 days off, nor do they want to.
People still have a passion but not the will if that makes any sense. My favourite saying is there are no shortcuts to any place worth going, that is especially true when it comes to searching for waves in remote locations. You’ve got to want it.
In your search for waves and all of your travels, are there any memorable waves that stand out above the rest?
I’ve gone over the falls in Namibia with the best of them. Chased hurricanes into Canada, and have spent an insane amount of time in Mexico, but my most memorable waves are all in Indonesia. One, in particular stands out. I had been tracking an early season storm that was ticking all the boxes for a potential Rifles swell in front of Kandui. It wasn’t the biggest swell but the direction was perfect, the winds looked great, and about a week out I got my airline tickets and confirmed the trip.
The first morning after I arrived the ocean was as blue and glassy as it could possibly get and there were these beautiful long period lines just beginning to filter in. It was just starting to show. We were hosting a Billabong Surf with a Pro camp with Pete Mendia and Shane Dorian and their group went off to look for a little more size on another island, I hung back and caught a ride out to Rifles hoping the brunt of the swell would arrive soon.
Luckily, we pulled up right as the first real pulse pushed in. This flawless 6 foot, aqua blue freight train broke from the top all the way through the bottom, easily 600 yards. It rarely does that. A lot of swells will focus on the top section and go for about 300 yards, other swells will swing wide and focus on the inside section and break for about 300 yards in there, it’s pretty rare for it to cover both zones so seamlessly.
I got out to the line up and there were about a dozen guys out talking about that set, there was definitely a buzz going through everyone. Another pulse came in, my first wave was a fun little 4 footer that razor edged down the reef and I got two super clean and easy 6 second barrels. It was such a great way to start the trip. The rip was pulling back up the point and the waves were inconsistent so I almost drifted back to the take-off zone.
I got out to the line up and there were about a dozen guys out talking about that set, there was definitely a buzz going through everyone
About 50 yards from where everyone was sitting you could see this lump out in the channel. A lot of the times those lumps will refract away from you and not hit the reef right but this one was looked promising like it might push in. The pack sitting outside saw it before me and started to scramble and as I got over the wave in front of the lump you could see the most ridiculous wall of water imaginable building up and stretching well into the channel.
All of those guys outside were out of position and all of a sudden this double overhead gift literally swung right to me. Since I was wide I had to negotiate a late drop over a shallower part of the reef. The drop wasn’t as easy as it looks but I got into it fine and bottom turned up into the first barrel section.
The instant I felt that I had got under the lip safely the rest of the wave did not have a molecule of water out of place. The first barrel section was about 6 seconds, I came out of that section and into what is traditionally the best part of the wave and put my hand over my head and just took this view in. I can only describe as being locked inside a video game. No reef warble, no whitewater influence, every shade of blue possible, the cleanest lip line and barrel shape you could ever ask for. I stood there in awe for another ten seconds. By this time I had traveled close to 300 yards, no one was around or paddling out and I briefly came out of that barrel with the biggest smile on my face and hit the inside section with the wave still well overhead and still reeling down the line effortlessly.
For the last 20 seconds I was locked into an aquarium. The wave did all the work. Imagine the best barrel anyone has ever got at Snapper Rocks and that was what the inside section was like. It was a life altering experience. I did a turn and kicked out and that was it.
One of my favourite parts of that story is after I caught that wave I paddled over to a dinghy in the channel. It was John McGroder from the Barrenjoey and his guests and they were hooting and cheering and as excited as I was as another set like mine was coming in. John had mentioned that his boat driver had got some pictures of the wave but only the second section but one of the other guys in the boat had filmed the wave on his video camera. And even later I found out that Alice from Wavepark had taken a few shots from the take-off.
Normally, I don’t get too excited to see photos or video of myself but this was different. The pictures do it justice and the video, even though the quality is not the best, still captures the moment with some funny commentary.
I’d almost compare that wave to a guy golfing by himself hitting the shot of his life and getting a hole in one on a Par 4 and then realising afterwards that some random person in the bushes had filmed the whole thing.
What do you think is the future of surf exploration?
I’m sure there are number of great waves that might not be undiscovered but are off the grid, very fickle, but have the potential to get good. More people are pushing into places that we ignored before, a lot of them are not economically feasible, too remote, or too dangerous.
We are already in the midst of a new type of surf exploration with the proliferation of wave pools; in the very near future, if it already isn’t happening to some extent, surfers are planning to visit a wave pool instead of going on a traditional surf trip.
Surfers are adventurous by nature and we’ve covered the vast majority of possibilities already. I think, the real future of surf exploration is developing the technology to create our own waves in the ocean and using the ocean’s energy to our benefit. To alter waves that are close to being good into waves that are actually good and to find a harmonious balance between the environment and the science and techniques behind creating those waves; the next 20 years should be interesting.
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