Nihiwatu AKA Occy's Left AKA God's Left

If you’ve seen The Drifter, Taylor Steele’s ponderous documentary about Rob Machado’s solo quest for purity, soul and isolation in the Indonesian archipelago, then you’ve perhaps wondered about the identity and whereabouts of the long, barrelling left-hander that appears towards the film’s end (not the one right at the end that every cunt and his dog flocks to whenever’s there’s a decent swell, but the one before that). Machado seems to stumble upon it quite by chance as he journeys across a remote island equipped with nothing but a surfboard, a tent and an enviable array of dense curly locks.

The reality is rather different. Since 2001 Nihiwatu has in fact been the site of a luxury resort, where these days a room for the night will cost you $900 USD — a price which includes food but not non-alcoholic drinks, nor the 21% government tax and service charge, nor your reservation for one of the day’s ten available “surf slots”. If you’re not staying at the resort and have not paid for a “surf slot”, you can’t surf the break; if you try to, you will be kindly asked to leave, possibly by a local wielding a machete.

And yet some people will tell you the wave doesn’t belong to the exclusive resort at all, but is in fact “Occy’s Left”, and has been ever since Mark Occhilupo tore it to pieces in Jack McCoy’s 1992 classic The Green Iguana; others take a different view of the ownership debate, and maintain that it remains the property of its original creator God. Either way the locals aren’t allowed to surf the place, but what would happen if Occy — or Jesus, for that matter — turned up without a laminated day pass?

Whether or not the luxury eco-hotel, which is powered by bio-diesel generators running on coconuts, is a good or bad thing for the local population is a matter of much debate on online discussion boards. The resort, for its part, says all profits are “repatriated” into the Machado-approved Sumba Foundation, which in the last 13 years has “set up over 15 primary schools, built 48 water wells, five clinics; supplied 172 villages with clean water and reduced Malaria by 85% in neighbouring villages.”

Pasta Point, Maldives

Pasta Point, situated in the North Malé Atoll, has for years been the exclusive preserve of guests (30 surfers max.) staying at the resort established by Australian surfer Tony Hussein Hinde, who was shipwrecked on the atoll back in 1973. Hussein married a local woman, became a naturalised Maldivian citizen, and secured sole rights to the long, peeling left-hander, setting a precedent which has since been followed by various foreign investors in the region. At the time of writing, of the eight islands with surf in the atoll, six are either occupied or in the process of being occupied by exclusive resorts; according to surf travel specialists Luex, only four or the seven world-class waves are currently open to all tourists and local surfers alike. And this number may rise yet…


Several years ago it was announced that yet another luxury resort was to be built on the North Malé Atoll, this time on the island of Thamburudhoo, home to the excellent right-hander Sultans and the even better left-hander Honkey’s, considered by many the best wave in the atoll. The resort would have exclusive rights to both waves, leaving just two of the seven world-class waves in the region open to the public.

Local surfers were naturally outraged. The Maldives Surfing Association argued that locals would lose not just their waves but also their jobs; the government meanwhile would lose taxes, the island’s heron colony its home. Nor were the area’s boat trip operators best pleased with the plans, which jeopardised their entire raison d’être. Together they launched a campaign to “save” the island, which appeared to have some effect. In March last year, the Maldivian Ministry of Tourism announced changes to existing regulations that would prevent resorts from restricting access to “popular” surf spots. The ambiguously worded statement was interpreted by some as a definitive end to exclusivity in the Maldives, but not by the resort owners themselves, who continue to keep line-ups closely guarded from outsiders (or locals, if you prefer); construction of the resort on Thamburudhoo, due to open this year, likewise went ahead regardless. What the future holds for local and visiting surfers remains unclear.

The developer behind the new resort, Harvard graduate Gunnar Lee-Miller, agreed to fund a new $5m military training facility on a neighbouring island in order to secure the lease; he has also promised to set aside two days every month on which locals will have the island’s waves to themselves — which is more than any of the other exclusive resorts allow them, but still something of an insult to those surfers who have enjoyed access to these waves for years and consider them their local breaks.

Yet this isn’t necessarily a simple black and white case of evil foreign investors profiting at the expense of the impoverished local community. Jess Ponting, head of San Diego State University’s Center for Surf Research, considered the Thamburudhoo situation in detail, and arrived at the conclusion that the proposed resort would give the country a better economic return — in the form of lease payments, tax revenue, and employment opportunities — than the entire charter boat fleet currently in operation. (His findings are disputed by the charter boats). But Ponting also suggests that if the resort is properly managed, locals as well as tourists will benefit from an improved surfing experience; they would enjoy exclusive, albeit only occasional, access to an uncrowded line-up, and could “use that as a point of leverage to have the other exclusive resorts adopt a similar plan.” The locals are not convinced.

The Ranch, California

The Ranch actually refers to two historically separate, adjacent ranches in Santa Barbara County, which together encompass some 8 1/2 miles of coastline and a host of high-quality point and reef set-ups. Razor Blades, Drake’s, Little Drake’s, Utah, Rights and Lefts, St. Augustine, Lefts and Rights, Lefts and Rights, Cojo Point, Perko’s Point, and Government Point are among the quasi-mythical spots dotted along this comparatively untouched stretch of the Californian coast.

It’s a gated and guarded community, and everywhere from from the security gate to the “mean high-tide line” is strictly out of bounds to the public. Besides trespass, the prospective surfer is thus left with three options: accessing the line-up by boat is the standard method, though some choose to hike west from Gaviota State Park along the beach below the high-tide line; the third alternative is forking out for some real-estate. Many of the landowners surf, and neither they nor the dedicated crew who regularly make the trip by boat take kindly to newcomers. Certainly the waves are less crowded than elsewhere in California, but to describe them as empty would be an exaggeration.
The Hollister Ranch now consists of 133 parcels of land, each of at least 100 acres, which first went on the market in 1971. A quick look at the Hollister Ranch Realty website reveals two parcels currently for sale: one is fully developed with a three-bedroom principal residence plus a guesthouse, and could be yours for a mere $12m (although “partial interests” are also available); the other, a bare plot of land with development rights, is priced at $3.4m. When plans to install a public access trail were proposed in 2013, they were met with outrage, followed by legal challenges, on the part of landowners.

The faux surf clothing brand and Abercrombie & Fitch offshoot Hollister, incidentally, was named after John J Hollister Jr, whose grandfather originally acquired the ranch in the wake of the Civil War. Much of the brand’s clothing bears the date “1922” on logos and labels, in reference to a surf shop the grandson supposedly established on Hollister Ranch in that year, but this story has no historical foundations; no such shop ever existed, and in fact the company was not founded until 2000.

Tavarua, 1982-2010

The minuscule heart-shaped island of Tavarua is one of the natural wonders of the surfing world. Kelly Slater calls Cloudbreak his favourite wave on the planet; CJ Hobgood says the same thing about Restaurants, the island’s other world-class left.

But the island is also home to perhaps the original exclusive surf resort, even if nowadays the waves are open to all. Two early visitors from California set up camp on the island in the early ’80s after negotiating a deal with the local tribes that guaranteed guests exclusive access to the surf, an arrangement that would last until 2010, when the Fijian government opted to lift these restrictions. “A lot of people saw the exclusivity as a negative thing,” says Shane Dorian, “but it really didn’t exclude anybody. You just had to stay on Tavarua, which was an awesome place to come and visit.” No doubt it was — even more so back then — but it was also an extremely expensive place to come and visit, effectively excluding all but the extremely well-off (your opinion on which may or may not bear a close relation to the balance of your bank account). Many a giant, perfect wave went unridden as a result.

Vaguely interesting fact: the scene where the raft gets smashed in the movie Cast Away was filmed at Cloudbreak.