For weeks now I’ve been in training for these waves of the southern Maldives. I’ve arrived – by seaplane – to the southern Maldivian atoll of Thaa. The swell’s building from the south, the wind’s light and offshore and there’s 20 empty surf breaks spread out around me here at one of the least developed parts of the Maldives.
I’m waiting on a surf charter boat and my guts are churning, as much for who I’ll share the ride with as for any waves I’ll find. Surf trips abroad tend to bring out the testosterone in humans, many of whom have scrimped and saved for months, sometimes years, to find that wave of a lifetime.
This quest for the perfect wave can do funny things to a surfer, and it’s not always pretty.
Surf guide Adam Webster tells me the other surfers, whose flight was delayed somewhere between California and here, won’t be long. Next thing, they’re walking down the pier towards me and they’re … well, elderly. Two orthopaedic surgeons from LA who haven’t surfed in years and an Australian real estate tycoon who’s a few rides off being a beginner.
International surf travellers aren’t what they used to be, especially here in the Maldives. Luxury came to the surf travel business in the early 2000s, changing the game forever and surf trips became week-long breaks between work contracts, not months-long global quests for enlightenment.
While twenty-somethings may still cram themselves into sweaty dorm rooms up and down the Indonesian archipelago, the majority of the 10,000 or so surfers who come to the Maldives each year demand the creature comforts of home, and then some. The surf pioneers of the ’70s and ’80s had to grow up sooner or later to join the rest of us forging careers and buying homes and should you come to the Maldives, you’ll find many of them bought (and sold) the whole block.
In these modern times of overcrowded surf breaks, the real luxury on any surf trip comes from exclusivity; and nowhere’s more exclusive than Como Maalifushi. It’s the only resort on the southern atoll, Thaa, and surfers have the choice of 20 breaks here and at two other atolls, some of which have barely been surfed before.
I sleep in an overwater suite above a lagoon, but the most extravagant thing about Como Maalifushi for any surfer is that TropicSurf, an Australian surf guiding company which operates out of the resort between April and October (the Maldives’ surf season), can virtually guarantee I will find perfect waves with no one on them.
Before Como Maalifushi, surfers had to travel hundreds of kilometres aboard charter boats to ride these waves. Now I leave one of the world’s most densely populated areas (the Maldives’ capital Male) and fly for barely an hour aboard a seaplane to surf one of its least.
When I reach the resort, my priority is checking in at TropicSurf HQ. There are four walls of photos of surfers who found their wave of a lifetime. I can see it in their faces as they dart across empty, green-faced walls. There’s one especially enticing shot: an empty, head-high wave breaks so perfectly it reminds me of the waves I drew on the school books of my adolescence.
I ask Webster where it’s taken. “I can’t tell you that one,” he says. “We need some secrets.”
Webster’s been guiding these atolls for nearly two decades. He reckons there’s no better place on Earth to find a perfect wave for yourself. “It used to take me four days from Male on a boat to get here,” he says. “Now within 75 minutes we can surf 20 surf breaks that are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.”
Waves were discovered in the Maldives by accident. Australian travellers Tony Hinde and Mark Scanlon were crewing a yacht that was shipwrecked in the northern Maldives in the ’70s. They found perfect waves and never left, managing to keep them a secret for 15 years. By the late ’80s, word leaked out, and surfers began arriving. These days, five-star hotel chains operate surf trips, and more than 50 surf charter boats ply their trade from Male’s busy seaport. Waves around Male can get awfully crowded when the swell hits.
But few surfers ever make it this far south. That I’m prepping myself for my first surf with a three-course lunch overlooking the resort’s white-sand bay speaks volumes about surfing in 2019.
I might have opted to charter the 20-metre, $2 million live-aboard vessel, Cameron, parked out front. Instead I’ll make do with a luxury speed boat whose captain wears a starched white uniform. I’m offered a print-out of an Australian newspaper for the 40-minute journey to Farms but I decline and instead study the gnarled, empty coastline of Thaa. There are no resorts here, just a few tiny villages laid out between coconut trees swaying with the Trade winds.
Farms breaks right-to-left above water so translucent the bright blue sheen of feeding parrot fish dazzles me as I paddle across corridors of reef below. There looks to be just a few centimetres of ocean below me, but when I jump from my board, it’s more than head-high: clear water creates an illusion that messes with your senses.
As I stroke into my first wave it’s so geometrically perfect that I run along the face of the wave without attempting a turn, admiring the symmetry of a wave that breaks like it ought to. The water is a warm 27 degrees and there’s not another surfer for 100 kilometres; a family of manta rays high-tail it across the take-off zone. The surgeons take up position wider where the water’s deeper. Webster says most of these waves are suitable for all types of surfer; you can choose how tough you want to make it.
When I’m done, I drift slowly to the boat as a pod of spinner dolphins pass. On the ride home they’re drawn by the boat’s twin 200-horsepower outboards and put on a show across the bow waves. A spinner dolphin can spin five times in a single jump but I swear I count six. When I make it back and as the sunset plays out across the lagoon, I sink an icy-cold beer at the bar of the resort’s Japanese restaurant, Tai.
For all its five-star luxury – I have a plunge pool on the deck of my suite, should the lagoon below be too much bother to jump into – I find there’s something about being here that takes me back to my childhood in a sleepy Australian surf town. Maybe it’s because I’m surfing twice a day, or that I’m moving between my room and the resort’s three restaurants by cruiser bike. Or that I haven’t worn a pair of shoes – not even thongs – since I got here. And I’m more aware of the wind, and the tide, and the cycles of swell than I’ve been since I was a surf-crazy teenager. I’m so high on surfing I’m reading surf magazines to send myself to sleep at night.
We vary the surf breaks with the changing winds and swell, and I ride waves with names like Machines and Kasabu. No one else is out … ever. Isolation like this is hard to find. All across the globe, surfers battle each other for that precious inside spot at every surf break you ever heard of. And here I am riding the waves of my life, wondering where the hell they all are.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE SOUTHERN MALDIVES
SNORKEL WITH WHALE SHARKS
Take a boat ride from the resort and snorkel with whale sharks at night. The best sightings occur between December and May.
WATCH DOLPHINS SPIN
Take a sunset cruise along the edge of Thaa Atoll to see spinner dolphins (there are hundreds in the area) surf your bow waves.
SEE HOW LOCALS LIVE
Take a two-hour excursion to a village to see how life is on a Maldivian island. Stroll around, watch the local children play football and eat Maldivian treats.
Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Como Hotels & Resorts.
Singapore Airlines flies to the Maldives via Singapore daily. Seaplane transfers can be arranged through the resort. See singaporeairlines.com
Como Maalifushi has overwater accommodation as well as beach villas and suites. From $US800 a night, includes daily breakfast, yoga and watersports See comohotels.com/maalifushi