Relieving Indo

A group of surfers and doctors sail out to the remote, tsunami-ravaged islands of Sumatra to deliver aid.

By Stefan Marti

Photography by Dustin Humphrey

On December 26, 2004, a 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean unleashed a massive tsunami that devastated coastal towns from Sri Lanka to Indonesia. The northwest coast of Sumatra, Indonesia was the worst hit. Over a hundred thousand people were killed by the wave; villages were flattened into a wash of mud, upturned cars, and debris. Entire fishing fleets were destroyed. For a week, surfer Timmy Turner and photographer Dustin Humphrey watched the tragic reports from Huntington Beach, California. Both Dustin and Timmy have intimate bonds with Indonesia: Dustin lives in Bali, and his fiancà‡e, Mira, is from Java. As a surf photographer, he had been to the ravaged region numerous times. Timmy has been spending three to six months a year in Indonesia since 1997. He has close ties with many of the villages, and as a filmmaker has documented his adventures surfing and living on the remote islands. The two of them could no longer watch the devastation on television. They needed to help, see if the reports were true, and find out what happened to the country that had offered them so much.

A few days later, Timmy and Dustin packed their bags and headed to Indonesia. With the support of Quiksilver and Quiksilver Travel, they were flown down to Padang, Sumatra to help out and document the relief work of SurfAid International. SurfAid is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of indigenous populations by alleviating suffering from malaria and other preventable diseases. Because most international relief was going to the overwhelmed Aceh province, SurfAid focused on the remote islands just north of the Mentawais, which hadn’t received any help. They started with the island of Nias-a surf paradise known for its uncrowded, perfect waves. Reports from Nias spoke of wiped-out villages and hundreds of dead and missing people. SurfAid was delivering supplies to the island and setting up medical clinics to immunize villagers against malaria, tetanus, cholera, and measles.

When Dustin and Timmy arrived in Padang, they entered the chaotic world of relief aid. Supplies were needed, boats were sought, doctors were being organized, journalists were trying to get onto vessels, and plans were shifting every hour. After a day of bouncing from one plan to the next, it became apparent that there would be no space for media specialists on the SurfAid boat. Frustrated, but determined to accomplish what they set out to do, they decided that the best way to help out was to create their own relief mission. They joined Bill Sharp from Billabong, Matt George from Surfer magazine, and David Sparks of Australia’s Tracks magazine and organized an eclectic yet resolute group of people to sail out to Nias and Simeulue to deliver aid. Among them was Timmy’s mother, Michele.

Michele, who had not left the United States since she was eighteen, felt an intense calling to help Indonesia. She, Mira (Dustin’s fiancà‡e), and a friend, Kristian McCue, were so overwhelmed by the tragedy that they bought tickets to Bali and planned to help out in the Aceh region. The night before they left, they received a call from Timmy telling them that there was a change in plan and they were to fly to Padang to join their operation.

The group had named their response team “Sumatra Surfzone Relief Operation” (SSRO), and they worked nonstop for four days organizing their plan. Dustin had gotten hold of an 80-foot charter ship, Mikumba (with four crew), through his friend Jordan. Matt had found three Indonesian doctors (Dr. Ul, Dr. Watti, and Dr. Taufik), and Bill came up with the money to pay for the numerous supplies needed for relief. A friend, Brian Williams (Will), who knows the area well, flew down from Medan to guide the ship. Timmy was in charge of livestock, which included three goatsnd six chickens, and when they ran into problems with permits, it was David who obtained the necessary papers to get to Simeulue. In the end, there were eleven people in the group, none of them with any relief-aid experience.

Working directly with IDEP (Indonesian Development of Education and Permaculture), which donated 1,000 rescue buckets (matches, knives, spoons, mosquito coils, cooking pots, rope, candles, toothpaste, soap, towels), they loaded up the Mikumba and a fellow ship, Asia, with 37 tons (74,000 pounds) of aid, including fruit, vegetables, rice, dried fish, canned corned beef, water, shovels, fishing nets, and medical supplies.

On January 13, with Bill staying ashore as the liaison, the crew set sail along with Asia for 48 hours to the town of Gunung Sitoli, East Nias. The captain of Asia, Chris Scurrah, had already been to Nias once since the tsunami to survey the damage. Chris runs Sumatran Surfaris out of the Mentawais, and his knowledge of the area and dedication to the relief would be of immense help.

As they sailed to Nias, the crew of the Mikumba had no idea what to expect. They’d heard numerous stories of wiped-out villages, and the fact that twenty days had already passed made them wonder if they were too late. Dustin thought about the footage they had seen of a ten-foot wall of water and debris surging through the streets. Timmy wrote in his journal, “I don’t know what helping is, to tell you the truth. Maybe it’s just simply to document what’s going on over here. Or maybe it’s putting down the camera and burying the dead bodies.”

When they dropped anchor at Gunung Sitoli harbor, they couldn’t believe what they saw. The plan was to unload the aid from Asia and send it by truck to badly hit villages on the west coast of the island, north of Sirombu. But the town before them was in a state of chaos. Two aid groups had already arrived, and with the relief came greed and piracy. Trucks had been held up at gunpoint on the road, and a thriving black-market system was in full swing. It was unclear who would best distribute the aid. As night began to fall, staying in the harbor with a full load of supplies became a dangerous option. Pirate ships were looting relief vessels and selling their contents on the black market. Luckily, with the guidance of the vice governor, they were able to unload most of Asia’s supplies into a warehouse, where it would be entrusted to a grassroots Belgian relief organization. In addition, several hundred rescue buckets, two tons of fresh produce, and two tons of water were covertly off-loaded from the Mikumba to a trusted, local captain who was sailing up north to some villages.

At two in the morning, the Mikumba set sail again with two new passengers from the Asia: Alyssa, a fifth-year medical student from Australia, and Adam, an experienced surf guide and sailor. Under a star-filled sky, the ship headed north to Simeulue, where there was supposedly more need for medical care and supplies.

The next day the Mikumba had some plumbing problems, and the crew anchored her off the Banyak Islands to fix the pump. It was there, on a peaceful beach, that they came across the first dead body. It was a mere skeleton, ghostly white with tattered clothes and a faded belt. Birds and crabs had picked off most of the flesh. The skull faced the ocean and somehow looked at ease as it watched the incoming waves.

A few hours later, after fixing the water pump and getting back underway, they came across another dead body. This one was floating in the water, bloated and white, clinging to some loose debris. This corpse was far less peaceful and looked as though it struggled to the end. The face was puffed up and much more menacing. It was a humbling reminder of the tragedy that had happened. There were a few more floating bodies scattered in the ocean debris, but the Mikumba continued north, to Sinabang, a town on the main island of Simeulue where Will had a home.

Most of the damage in Sinabang was due to the earthquake, as many of the buildings were made of brick but had no rebar to reinforce the structures. The tsunami hadn’t hit the town. Mira, as the translator, and Will traveled into Sinabang on a motorbike to find out about the rest of the island. The crew waited anxiously. There was an incredible amount of produce that would go bad if they didn’t find any villages soon. After a few hours, Mira and Will returned with a report that on the north tip of the island, at Alafan Bay, there were several villages that had been completely destroyed. There was no road access to the villages and apparently no aid ships had gone up there yet. The soldier who had told them of the region joined the Mikumba, and they weighed anchor.

The next day was the turning point of the relief mission. At 9:00 a.m., the Mikumba arrived at the demolished village of Langi and was greeted by a few cautious fishing boats. When Mira explained to the locals that they were delivering food and medical aid, they were immediately welcomed. Ropes and tarps were the first supplies ashore to start the construction of food and medical distribution tents. The head of the village was found and informed, and soon boatloads of supplies were paddled to the beach. It was somewhat chaotic, as none of the crew had ever executed a relief effort, but quickly a list was made of every family in the village, and one by one, the head of each family was given a rescue bucket, food, water, and supplies. Meanwhile, the doctors were vaccinating all the children and treating injuries, burns, and illnesses.

The amazing thing about the village was that although 95 percent of the town was flattened, no one had died. Apparently, in 1907, they had been hit by a great tsunami, and throughout the years, from one generation to the next, elders warned that if the sea should ever recede, exposing the reefs, everyone should run for the hills. And this was what they did. When they returned to their village it was little more than a wasteland of debris. All of their food, clothes, tools, money, belongings, everything had been washed away. For over two weeks they had been living off coconuts. But even the coconuts were slowly disappearing. They were down to the smallest ones.

All of Langi’s inhabitants were severely malnourished, especially the children, and the crew of the Mikumba worked frantically to assist them. Mira and Matt were communicating with the villagers, while Timmy, Dustin, Dave, Kristian, and Adam were unloading and distributing goods. Michele and one doctor organized all of the supplies, rationing them out, keeping everything under control. “It brought tears to my eyes,” Timmy said, “watching my mom working so hard, day and night.”

Meanwhile, the doctors on land examined the villagers for infectious diseases. Most of the illnesses involved respiratory infection, skin disease, and bowel irritation. A pharmacy tent was constructed to distribute the right medicines to those in need. Somehow, everything came together. Perhaps it was common sense, or just that the incredible need made everything clear. That day the medical crew worked for nine hours straight and treated 164 families, including a ten-month-old baby with third-degree burns covering 45-percent of his body.

The next day, it started again. They searched for villages and when they found one, they set up a clinic and distributed food, medicine, and supplies. In Lamerem, 80 percent of the town was destroyed, and 102 families were treated. In Lau Pau, the entire town was demolished, and the crew worked late into the night, despite the risk of malaria from mosquitoes, treating 180 families. Word had spread across the island that help was on the way, and when the Mikumba pulled up to a village, often everyone in town was standing on the beach, waving their hands. “It was an amazing sight to see,” Dustin said, “all the hopeful faces.”

While the doctors treated the injured and sic damage in Sinabang was due to the earthquake, as many of the buildings were made of brick but had no rebar to reinforce the structures. The tsunami hadn’t hit the town. Mira, as the translator, and Will traveled into Sinabang on a motorbike to find out about the rest of the island. The crew waited anxiously. There was an incredible amount of produce that would go bad if they didn’t find any villages soon. After a few hours, Mira and Will returned with a report that on the north tip of the island, at Alafan Bay, there were several villages that had been completely destroyed. There was no road access to the villages and apparently no aid ships had gone up there yet. The soldier who had told them of the region joined the Mikumba, and they weighed anchor.

The next day was the turning point of the relief mission. At 9:00 a.m., the Mikumba arrived at the demolished village of Langi and was greeted by a few cautious fishing boats. When Mira explained to the locals that they were delivering food and medical aid, they were immediately welcomed. Ropes and tarps were the first supplies ashore to start the construction of food and medical distribution tents. The head of the village was found and informed, and soon boatloads of supplies were paddled to the beach. It was somewhat chaotic, as none of the crew had ever executed a relief effort, but quickly a list was made of every family in the village, and one by one, the head of each family was given a rescue bucket, food, water, and supplies. Meanwhile, the doctors were vaccinating all the children and treating injuries, burns, and illnesses.

The amazing thing about the village was that although 95 percent of the town was flattened, no one had died. Apparently, in 1907, they had been hit by a great tsunami, and throughout the years, from one generation to the next, elders warned that if the sea should ever recede, exposing the reefs, everyone should run for the hills. And this was what they did. When they returned to their village it was little more than a wasteland of debris. All of their food, clothes, tools, money, belongings, everything had been washed away. For over two weeks they had been living off coconuts. But even the coconuts were slowly disappearing. They were down to the smallest ones.

All of Langi’s inhabitants were severely malnourished, especially the children, and the crew of the Mikumba worked frantically to assist them. Mira and Matt were communicating with the villagers, while Timmy, Dustin, Dave, Kristian, and Adam were unloading and distributing goods. Michele and one doctor organized all of the supplies, rationing them out, keeping everything under control. “It brought tears to my eyes,” Timmy said, “watching my mom working so hard, day and night.”

Meanwhile, the doctors on land examined the villagers for infectious diseases. Most of the illnesses involved respiratory infection, skin disease, and bowel irritation. A pharmacy tent was constructed to distribute the right medicines to those in need. Somehow, everything came together. Perhaps it was common sense, or just that the incredible need made everything clear. That day the medical crew worked for nine hours straight and treated 164 families, including a ten-month-old baby with third-degree burns covering 45-percent of his body.

The next day, it started again. They searched for villages and when they found one, they set up a clinic and distributed food, medicine, and supplies. In Lamerem, 80 percent of the town was destroyed, and 102 families were treated. In Lau Pau, the entire town was demolished, and the crew worked late into the night, despite the risk of malaria from mosquitoes, treating 180 families. Word had spread across the island that help was on the way, and when the Mikumba pulled up to a village, often everyone in town was standing on the beach, waving their hands. “It was an amazing sight to see,” Dustin said, “all the hopeful faces.”

While the doctors treated the injured and sick, some of the group would set up a volleyball court and pass out soccer balls. They even gave surfing lessons to the kids. “It was heartwarming to see all the smiling faces splashing in the water,” Timmy said. “Their whole village had been destroyed, yet somehow, they continued to laugh.”

When they reached the village of Lubuk Baik, they couldn’t access the beach because dry reefs climbed out of the water. It appeared that the north part of the island rose almost four feet after the earthquake, changing the whole shoreline. This made navigating the boat extremely hazardous. For surfers, this could have an enormous effect on many of the Indo breaks. With small canoes, the group delivered supplies to the beach, but they were unable to set up a medical clinic.

On January 20, the Mikumba was nearly out of food. The Asia, restocked with supplies, had returned from the mainland and reunited with the group. An Indonesian military boat had also arrived with aid, and it was clear that the rest of the villages in the Alfan Bay would be taken care of.

Timmy and Dustin felt like they were destined for this mission. For years they had searched remote islands for perfect waves. “Searching for devastated villages was a similar experience,” Dustin said, “navigating around the island. Of course, the rush and warm feeling of finding and helping people in need is different. It’s an incredible feeling, unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”

Everyone aboard the Mikumba had an unforgettable experience. And everyone did an amazing job coming together: Mira translating and communicating with all the villages, Will navigating the boat through treacherous waters, Michele organizing and rationing the supplies, the four doctors running the medical clinics, and all the crew, working nonstop, unloading and distributing the goods. But there was no sense of self-congratulation on board. Timmy, in his modest voice, writes in his journal: “This is not some feel-good story about the surf industry coming together to give back to Indonesia. This is about people helping people. This is how it should be.”

Their operation was only one small group helping a few villages in an area where hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything they owned. And even with relief aid, most of the villages don’t have the infrastructure and equipment to continue to survive. Fleets of fishing boats are ruined, generators are destroyed; there is no money to buy new supplies. Houses and schools need to be rebuilt, and new ways need to be implemented for villages to protect their environment and sustain their livelihood. There is an opportunity here-continued aid can help rebuild towns and educate villages for the future. Hopefully, organizations like SurfAid will expand their cause.

Before heading home, the Mikumba stopped near Sinabang and unloaded the rest of its supplies. The whole crew spent the afternoon surfing, including the two women doctors and Timmy’s mom, who had never surfed before. “It was a beautiful sight to see,” Dustin said, “the two doctors, fully clothed, surfing the waves.” In the Muslim culture, it is inappropriate for a woman to show her skin in public. But this didn’t keep them from surfing.

Timmy and Dustin donated money they had received from friends and family to rebuild the mosque and community center in Sinabang. Perhaps the spirit of this group is best depicted through Ben Kwock, a teenager from Huntington Beach. When Ben found out that Timmy was heading down to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims, he gave Timmy his Christmas money-$300. He told Timmy, “Please give the money to the kids over there. They need it more than me.”

____________

A special thanks to IDEP, SurfAid, Quiksilver, and all the surf companies that gave generously to help the mission, Sumatran Surfaris, the Malloy brothers, Bill, Will, Jordan, Chris, Christina, the generous Indonesian people, and all of the individuals and organizations working so hard to help tsunami victims all over the Indian Ocean.

You can read Timmy’s journals online at www.transworldsurf.com.

Captions:

Remains of a body on a desolate beach.

Off the Banyaks, a dead body floats in the debris.

A young boy smiles with relief.

Adam shakes hands with a villager.

A father brings his burnt son to a medical clinic.

An entire village greets the aid workers as they arrive.

Timmy Turner unloads a goat onto a local fishing boat.

One of the many medical clinics set up on Simeulue Island.

A young girl sits on what used to be her house.

Doctor Alyssa checks the blood pressure of one of the villagers.

After the 9.0 earthquake, reefs rose out of the water as high as three meters in some places.

Timmy brings gear ashore on a raft of lashed-together surfboards when the dinghy’s outboard motor breaks down.

Dr. Ul surfing for the first time.

some of the group would set up a volleyball court and pass out soccer balls. They even gave surfing lessons to the kids. “It was heartwarming to see all the smiling faces splashing in the water,” Timmy said. “Their whole village had been destroyed, yet somehow, they continued to laugh.”

When they reached the village of Lubuk Baik, they couldn’t access the beach because dry reefs climbed out of the water. It appeared that the north part of the island rose almost four feet after the earthquake, changing the whole shoreline. This made navigating the boat extremely hazardous. For surfers, this could have an enormous effect on many of the Indo breaks. With small canoes, the group delivered supplies to the beach, but they were unable to set up a medical clinic.

On January 20, the Mikumba was nearly out of food. The Asia, restocked with supplies, had returned from the mainland and reunited with the group. An Indonesian military boat had also arrived with aid, and it was clear that the rest of the villages in the Alfan Bay would be taken care of.

Timmy and Dustin felt like they were destined for this mission. For years they had searched remote islands for perfect waves. “Searching for devastated villages was a similar experience,” Dustin said, “navigating around the island. Of course, the rush and warm feeling of finding and helping people in need is different. It’s an incredible feeling, unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”

Everyone aboard the Mikumba had an unforgettable experience. And everyone did an amazing job coming together: Mira translating and communicating with all the villages, Will navigating the boat through treacherous waters, Michele organizing and rationing the supplies, the four doctors running the medical clinics, and all the crew, working nonstop, unloading and distributing the goods. But there was no sense of self-congratulation on board. Timmy, in his modest voice, writes in his journal: “This is not some feel-good story about the surf industry coming together to give back to Indonesia. This is about people helping people. This is how it should be.”

Their operation was only one small group helping a few villages in an area where hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything they owned. And even with relief aid, most of the villages don’t have the infrastructure and equipment to continue to survive. Fleets of fishing boats are ruined, generators are destroyed; there is no money to buy new supplies. Houses and schools need to be rebuilt, and new ways need to be implemented for villages to protect their environment and sustain their livelihood. There is an opportunity here-continued aid can help rebuild towns and educate villages for the future. Hopefully, organizations like SurfAid will expand their cause.

Before heading home, the Mikumba stopped near Sinabang and unloaded the rest of its supplies. The whole crew spent the afternoon surfing, including the two women doctors and Timmy’s mom, who had never surfed before. “It was a beautiful sight to see,” Dustin said, “the two doctors, fully clothed, surfing the waves.” In the Muslim culture, it is inappropriate for a woman to show her skin in public. But this didn’t keep them from surfing.

Timmy and Dustin donated money they had received from friends and family to rebuild the mosque and community center in Sinabang. Perhaps the spirit of this group is best depicted through Ben Kwock, a teenager from Huntington Beach. When Ben found out that Timmy was heading down to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims, he gave Timmy his Christmas money-$300. He told Timmy, “Please give the money to the kids over there. They need it more than me.”

____________

A special thanks to IDEP, SurfAid, Quiksilver, and all the surf companies that gave generously to help the mission, Sumatran Surfaris, the Malloy brothers, Bill, Will, Jordan, Chris, Christina, the generous Indonesian people, and all of the individuals and organizations working so hard to help tsunami victims all over the Indian Ocean.

You can read Timmy’s journals online at www.transworldsurf.com.

Captions:

Remains of a body on a desolate beach.

Off the Banyaks, a dead body floats in the debris.

A young boy smiles with relief.

Adam shakes hands with a villager.

A father brings his burnt son to a medical clinic.

An entire village greets the aid workers as they arrive.

Timmy Turner unloads a goat onto a local fishing boat.

One of the many medical clinics set up on Simeulue Island.

A young girl sits on what used to be her house.

Doctor Alyssa checks the blood pressure of one of the villagers.

After the 9.0 earthquake, reefs rose out of the water as high as three meters in some places.

Timmy brings gear ashore on a raft of lashed-together surfboards when the dinghy’s outboard motor breaks down.

Dr. Ul surfing for the first time.

to help tsunami victims all over the Indian Ocean.

You can read Timmy’s journals online at www.transworldsurf.com.

Captions:

Remains of a body on a desolate beach.

Off the Banyaks, a dead body floats in the debris.

A young boy smiles with relief.

Adam shakes hands with a villager.

A father brings his burnt son to a medical clinic.

An entire village greets the aid workers as they arrive.

Timmy Turner unloads a goat onto a local fishing boat.

One of the many medical clinics set up on Simeulue Island.

A young girl sits on what used to be her house.

Doctor Alyssa checks the blood pressure of one of the villagers.

After the 9.0 earthquake, reefs rose out of the water as high as three meters in some places.

Timmy brings gear ashore on a raft of lashed-together surfboards when the dinghy’s outboard motor breaks down.

Dr. Ul surfing for the first time.