On the edge of wildness

For the past 26 years and perhaps longer, surfing aficionados from all over the world have been making the journey to experience the left-hand wave at Nihiwatu, a magnificent surfing paradise on the Indonesian island of Sumba, about one hour and twenty minutes by air south of Bali. It was in 1988 that Claude and Petra Graves first arrived and painstakingly set about building a small resort with 11 keys.

They continued to attract surfers, limiting the number to 10 per day, giving the resort almost cult status and building a successful business that has garnered more than its fair share of awards from leading publications around the world. Perhaps more significantly, in 2001 they founded the Sumba Foundation with Sean Downs, a successful businessman who stayed at the resort to surf. The foundation is committed to helping “alleviate the burden of poverty” on the people of this extraordinary island by improving health and education, creating economic opportunities, fighting malaria and providing tanks of drinking water throughout the island. As the business became more successful, more money was directed to the foundation so that, to date, 15 primary schools and 48 water wells have been built, five clinics opened and 172 villages supplied with clean water. All this has resulted in reducing malaria in neighboring villages by 85%.

Looking to take the resort to the next level in 2013, U.S. entrepreneur Chris Burch purchased the resort and, together with Managing Partner James McBride — best known for his time at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Co., Rosewood Hotels & Resorts and, most recently, as president of Malaysian hotel conglomerate YTL Hotels — set about transforming the property. Adding suites including a five-bedroom master suite, four treehouse apartments and additional rooms, the resort will grow to 32 rooms by spring 2015.

What has not changed are the 300 terrific Sumbanese staff led by a handpicked group of expats who really appreciate the culture and the island.

Additional international marketing is now at the forefront as James and Chris take the tagline “on the edge of wildness” to Australia, South America, the United States and Europe. A steady stream of international journalists from the most respected lifestyle, design and travel publications are coming to see what the partners have in mind as they complete this development and start on another project just up the coast.

While you no longer have to be a surfer to enjoy this resort, it certainly enhances the experience. More important is an appreciation of the Sumba Foundation that exists because of the generosity of hotel guests past and present who continue to support the vision — proving that the hospitality industry as a responsible citizen can have a lasting effect when it puts its mind to it.