What are neighbors for if not to visit and share the good times? And what better neighbor could one have than the Maldives just next door?
Here today, gone to Male. Where have I heard that saying before?
What are neighbors for if not to visit and share the good times? And what better neighbor could one have than the Maldives just next door? Being that Air India had opened up a direct flight [at reasonable rates] from Bangalore to Male, the capitol of the Maldives — which just happens to be a world class surf destination, and being that everything around our home break had been pretty much blown out for the past two months — guess what happened next? Three of us slipped away, got our tickets and — you guessed it, we went to the Maldives.
This was the kind of a spur of the moment surf trip that we knew we shouldn’t be taking because it really wasn’t within our budget and all the guys in our club couldn’t go either. We were feeling kind of selfish but what the heck, somebody had to do it! And it turned out to be us, Dustin, Kunja and Swami.
Maldives is no secret spot, at least not since 1973 when an Australian surfer, Tony Hinde, sailed into the islands and discovered a surfer’s seventh heaven. Now lots of fortunate guys do the Maldives surf trip every year, catch their share of great waves and go back home having lived a dream.
But when their credit card statement arrives in the mail, then the full extent of the damages is felt. Maldives is no cheap surf adventure. For a 4 star hotel double room on one of the many resort islands, cheap means around $250 per day and for the rich and famous cheap starts at around $2300 per day at resorts like the Dhoni Mighilli Hotel. Food and excursion boats to motor you around to the different surf spots are an additional expense. And a surfari live aboard boat is also no solution to the expense of a Maldives trip. The average rate for a luxury boat is around $10,000 per week for a group of ten surfers. So yea, the Maldives is a pricey surf trip. Still with the right connections it becomes doable.
Before flying out from Bangalore we looked at the weather and surf charts and things were looking kind of sketchy — rainy, windy and a dropping swell. The flight across the ocean and the descent into the Male International Airport on Hulhule Island however was spectacular — beautiful clear ocean water over coral made the barrier reefs look like glistening necklaces of pearls and diamonds garlanding the tiny islands.
No sooner was our plane on the ground and we had cleared customs and raced outside to catch a taxi, a rickshaw or whatever to get us to our hotel. It turns out that a taxi in the Maldives means a boat. There are two choices, depending of where you want to go — a speedboat [fast and furious] or a dhoni [a slow and steady boat]. We caught the next dhoni leaving the dock for Male, a fifteen-minute ride across the channel.
The Male skyline rises straight up out of the ocean. The highest point of land on the island is about 13 inches above sea level and build on that are hundreds of houses, apartment buildings and a few 10 story hotels and office buildings. Male looks quite different than other island paradises that I have seen with vast mountain ranges as a backdrop to towns and villages. Male stands on an island that is barely 2 square kilometers in area and every inch of that is built up. As we crossed the channel in our dhoni, Male looked like a mini version of downtown Los Angels partially submerged in the ocean.
Settling into our hotel room and munching down on a few granola bars we talk expectantly about the waves we hoped to get in the morning. After some time we slipped into a sound sleep.
The next morning, looking out the window of our 9th story hotel room we could see the tops of coconut trees tossing back and forth in the wind. With that much wind whipping around we thought that the waves would certainly be blown out and so we started feeling kind of bummed! Not only was the wind howling that first morning, it was blowing nonstop the whole time we were in the Maldives. But lady luck was with us — the wind was off shore and making for great surfing conditions. The sun was also in full form during our entire stay with only a lofty cloud or two blowing by now and again. Blue skies, white billowing clouds, warm aqua blue water and waves. Yes, this was going to be a good trip.
During the first two days the swell was a little small, below four feet, but it was expected to come up considerably. We stayed in Male the first couple of days to meet up with some of the local surfers and surf the only really ride-able wave in town that the locals have nicknamed the “Machine”. The wave comes in from the open ocean really fast, pitches up and breaks hard both left and right over coral reef. If you get caught inside there is no shelter of a channel to paddle to or even the haven of a nice sandy beach onshore. The white water just comes rushing in and crashes against a massive seawall. The locals call the place the “Machine’ because it makes you paddle hard and dive deep — if you want to survive.
There are about 35 local surfers in Male — that is about five times more surfers that all the surfers in India combined. They were a stoked bunch of guys and except for a couple of dudes that thought they owned the ocean and had the God given right to drop in on everyone and anyone — for the most part the locals were friendly, welcoming and very curious to hear about surfing in India. They said that they had never heard about surfers or waves in India and where very interested to hear about our 7000 kilometers of coastline and wave potential. We shared our stories with each other and it was a good bond.
During our evening session at the Machine, after about an hour, a few guys started shouting and jumping up and down on the seawall and waving their arms around trying to call us in from the water. The first thing I thought about was ‘sharks’. They do have some sharks in the Maldives and not wanting to get my leg bitten off I perched myself cross-legged on my 10 foot longboard like a yogi in meditation and pitifully looked down at my friends who were submerged in the water lying on their short boards. If there were sharks these guys were in real trouble.
Finally this guy came paddling out and told us that a tsunami warning was in effect and that we had better come out of the water and head for higher ground. But I thought, “What higher ground? There is no higher ground or any ground for that matter on this dinky island.”
Standing around the seawall for some time we talked with a few people and then I started thinking that this must be some kind of joke that locals play of first timers to Male. You get out in the water and all of a sudden you are told that you are in the line of an on coming tsunami that is about to wipe you and all life off the face of the Earth. Indeed, since the big tsunami in 2004 that took the lives of more than 295 thousand people in the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean we tend to be get real concerned every time we hear about an earthquake somewhere and a tsunami alarm being sent out.
Soon however we learned that the tsunami warning was the real deal and had been put into effect due to an earthquake measuring 8.2 on the Richter scale, which had occurred a few hours before in Western Sumatra. If a tsunami was indeed coming to Male it was expected to hit about one hour after dark. I thought, “Oh great! We are all going to drown in a giant tsunami and on top of that it’s going to be dark so we won’t even get to see the wave when it hits.”
We paddled back out to catch a few more waves before the end of the world and then headed back to the sanctuary of our 9th story hotel room. Admittedly some of the locals didn’t seem that panicky by the pending threat of a tsunami. As one local guy put it, “Every time there is an earthquake somewhere we get a tsunami warning. It happens all the time. But you can’t go on with your life living with the fear of death — so I’m going home and if I’m still alive when I wake up in the morning then it will be another great day.”
And alive we all were in the morning when we woke up. And it was another great sun shiny day in the Maldives. The earthquake in Sumatra had not triggered a tsunami and so everything looked like it was going to be alright. When things like this happen you thank your lucky stars or whatever or whoever it is that you believe is up there looking down on us. We were happy to be alive and ready to go surfing.
We went back to surf the Machine that morning but surprisingly there were no surfers in the line up or even a single soul on the street. As it turned out it was the first day of the Ramadan festival and everyone was busy with festival preparations in their homes. Ramadan is a Muslim festival that lasts for one month at which time food is only eaten after sunset, not in the daylight hours.
We had the whole day of surf at the Machine all to ourselves. True to its name the Machine worked us hard and Dustin hit the bottom and came up with a nice size ding in his back. Nothing a few dozen stitches wouldn’t cure but rather than paddle in and go to a clinic he just kept on surfing!
Because the Maldives is exclusively a Muslim country everyone is fasting all day and staying up all night feasting during Ramadan. That’s great but the down side was that nobody wakes up early in the morning and that meant that our hired boatman wasn’t going to show up at the docks everyday and motor us out to the reefs until after 8am. Even though in the end everything worked out OK — at the time it was a big irritation because we knew that if we could get to the outer reefs a few hours earlier each day we would get all the more great waves. But I guess we can’t complain too much because we caught so many great waves on our trip that I lost count after the first hour.
The swell picked up and for several days we surfed Sultans and Jail Break non-stop. Both places were nice right-handers. We could have easily cruised out to many other spots like Cokes, Chickens or Ninjas for more great waves but I learned a long time ago not to waste time riding around in a boat when there are great waves right in front of you just begging to be ridden.
To share our Maldives surf experience with our friends we have prepared a short video clip and a slide show below. We hope you will enjoy the pics.