Surfing Grows in Maldives
“For now, I’m not looking forward to having world champions in the Maldives…just more surfers,” says Nahshid Nasir (Nahu), 28, who started surfing 17 years ago on a plank of wood. “People used to be closed to surfing. But now they are open.
Nahu says that while surfing began in the Maldives 30 years ago, real surfboards have only become widely used in the past twelve years or so. He grew up surfing in North Male’, the one spot where there is no sea wall blocking out surf-worthy waves.
Nahu, also member of the Maldives Surf Association, explains how the growth of surfing in the Maldives now allows people to make a living off out of it. He uses himself, as well as Hussain Areef (Ibu), the Maldivian surfer who earned public affection after taking first place at an invitational surfing competition in Sri Lanka last year, as examples of people who are making a living out of the activity.
Nahu works as a surf judge, guide, and coach. He says that boys, and a few girls, across various atolls, anywhere between the ages of 13 to 50, have started surfing for leisure as equipment becomes more widespread.
During the championship round of the 10th annual Association of Surfing Professionals World Qualifying Series (WQS) earlier today, Nahu watched from a glass balcony overlooking Pasta Point at Chaaya Island Dhonveli resort.
Many say that this is the best surfing spot in the Maldives, not to mention one of the best surfing spots in the world. Nahu was observing alongside other judges, who were enjoying the last day of the week-long event. The competition was rated at six star prime, the highest possible ranking for quality of waves at a surfing competition.
At what many ASP officials deemed as the greatest final round they had ever witnessed, 19-year old Australian Owen Wright came in first place, followed by Patrick Gudauskas, a 23-year old surfer from the United States. Wright said it was the “best final” he had ever been in; his thoughts were echoed by ASP world tour head judge Perry Hatchet, who said that out of the hundreds of finals he had watched, this one placed in the top five.
Even before the memories created in the final round today, the competition had already earned a spot in surfing history. Two days ago, Gudauskas completed the first ever rodeo clown maneuver (a 540 degree summersault with the surfboard) in a competition. This past week set a strong precedence in professional surfing culture in the Maldives and abroad.
Out of 150 of the world’s best male surfers, 128 participated in last week’s competition, representing 20 nations. Countries that came first were the USA, Australia, and Brazil.
The Maldives has hosted this event for the past decade. According to Steve Robertson, Media Director of ASP, and part of the group who first established the series, the competition was held on Lohifushi Island Resort for the first five years before being moved to Pasta Point because of the better quality of waves.
Wild card slots were granted to four Maldivian surfers, including Ibu, in this year’s competition, and although none got past the first round, Nahu says that each contender improved from the previous year.
“Nothing but Positives”
According to Robertson, surfing is still at a fledgling stage in the Maldives but the competition is a useful way of developing the sport in the country. When they were first looking for a place to hold the series 11 years ago, he says, perceptions of the Maldives as a surfing spot were flawed.
“Not a lot was known about surfing in the Maldives…some of the feedback was that the waves were small. That was the perception. Through the event… the perception has changed.” He chose the Maldives based on the tropical climate, good waves and the overall appeal of the area.
Since then, Robertson says that the warmest water worldwide along with great waves, fantastic food and a welcoming environment has led to “nothing but positives”.
ASP CEO Alex Stark says that Pasta Point provides “one of the best event set ups in the world.” He highlights the invaluable infrastructure of the resort.
Near Shore Breaks Appeal to Judges
A bar and a patio for spectators face Pasta Point. Upstairs a room with a glass wall overlooks the beach, providing a convenient space for setting up cameras, computers, and judges. Robertson says “you just don’t get the perfect peeling waves with the infrastructure of an island resort set up. We have no infrastructure cost. You don’t get that anywhere else.”
Judges particularly like the set up because they are very close to the surfers. Tour head judge Hatchett explains that, “In other places surfers are a couple of a hundred meters off shore. Here it is easier to judge because they are right on your doorstep… it is the best place in the world to judge”.
Nahu, who has also judged in competitions in Japan, agrees that the Maldivian beaches are three times closer than most beaches. The intimate setting allows fans’ enthusiastic cheers to reach the ears of surfers as they finish waves and head back out to finish their heat.
There are a variety of factors that make waves in the Maldives conducive to creative and exciting surfing. The waves usually rise between two and ten feet, according to Robertson. Most of this year’s waves were between three to five feet. What is particularly useful about the surfing area around Pasta Point is that the angles formed with neighboring islands create another five or six breaks nearby.
In other words, where the waves come out of the deep water to create white water. These extra breaks provide surfers with more room to warm up and practice. The offshore wind conditions, as well as the reefs, allow for exciting aerials opportunities, such as Gudauska’s rodeo clown.
Stark points out that these conditions are useful not just for high level competitors, but for aspiring recreational surfers as well.
Surfers on the Rise in Paradise
Ahmed Dara, operational manager for Atoll Adventures, and operating and handling agent which has exclusive rights to who surfs off of Chaaya Island, says that one of the reasons why surfing is growing in the Maldives is due to the international exposure that comes from the competition. He says that the number of surfers that he books rises each year, reaching approximately 900 this year.
To protect the tranquility of the sport and avoid overcrowding, Atoll Adventures allows a maximum of 30 surfers on the resort at a time. “People like this because there is no crowd,” Dara explains. “In other places, like Australia and Hawaii…there are good waves, but it’s too crowded.” Demand for surfing increases every year and despite a fallback during the financial crisis, surfing levels are back to normal.
Partners and Event Sponsors
Sri-Lankan airlines have been the main sponsors for the competition in the past years. Mr Shihad, assistant front office manager, says the event grows every year, calling for increasingly elaborate opening and closing ceremony parties.
Other sponsors this year included Maldives Tourism Board, Chaaya Island, and Ocean and Earth Surf brand. Dhiraagu also sponsored the event, providing the live feed that allowed the event to be broadcast online.
60,000 people watched last year’s event through this system and Stark expected more than 10,000 viewers for today’s final heats. He says that in the next years, the competition is “Going to need support from Maldivian sponsors to keep it alive and keep it going.”
Since the competition’s founding, ASP has been working closely with the Maldives Surf Association, and tomorrow Stark will be meeting with the Maldivian Tourism Promotion board to debrief them on this year’s competition.
In the future, Stark says that they would like to get the women’s championship tour event at this site as well because of the perfect conditions.
Gudauski gave a surfer’s impression of the surfing environment at Pasta Point, saying “This is like an Olympic pool. Other surfer spots are kid pools. The way the waves break on the reef leads to high performance. Also we love staying at a resort.”
Wright agreed, “Yeah, this is paradise.”
“Paradise…” repeated Gudauskas.