2019, Nias Island, Indonesia-
Two flights across Sumatra and a 2 1 /2-hour car ride later, I arrive in Sorake Bay, a small beach town at the southern tip of the Indonesian island of Nias.
The low-profile, laid-back vibe of the place, where tall palm trees and “losmens” – local lingo for hostels – dot the coast, is a stark contrast with the monstrous waves that make this one of the most famous surf destinations in the world.
It is only fitting that in this surfcrazy town I meet up with a boardrider whose infatuation with the sport is best exemplified by the frequency of his visits.
With his sun-kissed complexion and easy-going demeanour, Singaporean Mike Eu certainly looks the part of the wave-addicted surfer dude. Every six weeks or so, he heads to Sorake Bay from Penang where he now lives, spending around two weeks at a time surfing in what he considers a paradise.
Surfing for this retired grandfather of one, who turns 73 at the end of the month, has been a passion for the past 52 years.
His love affair with water started when he was just 11.
He was a prolific swimmer, first competing at inter-school meets before representing Singapore at the SEA Games and Asian and Commonwealth Games in his speciality backstroke.
His crowning achievement was his participation in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. However, he quit swimming when he turned 20 and shifted his focus to the skies, training as a pilot for Singapore Airlines.
But it wasn’t long before Mr Eu returned to the water. During flight school training in Melbourne, he would often visit Bells Beach, a world-renowned surf location.
It was there, at age 21, that he had his first taste of riding the waves after a chance encounter with a resting surfer who lent him a board.
“The balance came after a few days of trial and error, and there I was, hooked, and never looked back,” he recalls.
Mr Eu was 45 when he discovered Nias in a magazine. He fell in love with the place after visiting it. Sorake Bay is legendary because of the availability of waves all year round.
Unaffected by winds and tides, the bay plays host to surfers from all over the world, from paid professionals to amateurs looking to score the perfect ride.
Mr Eu hit the beach there as often as he could and, after retiring as a pilot at 55, would visit every six weeks, a routine he still keeps up today.
It is obvious that water is where he feels most at home. “Nature gives us such pleasure, (the waves) are such a beauty to behold,” he says. “It’s a thrill.”
But surfing at an age when cataracts and arthritis are more common has to be accompanied by a certain discipline. “Surfing is almost like a religion,” Mr Eu says.
He goes to the gym every other day and maintains a strict and healthy diet – just vegetables for dinner and a protein-heavy lunch.
Surfing will make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, in the city where Mr Eu made his own Olympic debut. But he won’t be competing this time – the Games will not offer the longboard surfing which Mr Eu prefers.
“I would have loved to go back to Tokyo to make history,” he says with a smile. “No Olympian has been back after a break of 55 years.”
Instead, 2020 will likely see Mr Eu back at Sorake Bay where it will be business as usual. He has no plans to slow down.
“I still love surfing and find happiness through it. Till what age, I don’t know, but I have seen surfers in Hawaii surfing at 88. They are my inspiration.”