“Alright okes, left or right?!”
These are the words of every surfer’s dream: To wake up, every morning; crawl out of your private cabin, chug down a cup of Nescafe, a bowl of corn flakes, before setting sail, and through sleep-encrusted eyes, round the corner to see two reef breaks sending perfect walls marching in synchronous fashion as they peel off the islands. The tough part? Choosing which to surf first:
“I count 10 guys out on the right; 5 on the left.”
“Ag ya but that left was way better in the evening yesterday.”
(said as a perfectly clean 4ft wave appears and reels down on the left.)
“Yew! Look at that! Definitely the left.”
“No, bru, did you just see that set on the right?! The right’s definitely been better in the mornings.”
“Bru, you decide, I need to see a man about a dog…”
This was the debate that started every day on the yacht during our Maldives surf trip. A debate that left me stoke-struck: in what world do you get to wake up for 10 days straight and surf your wave of preference in clean conditions, 28 degree water, 34 degree weather, and relatively minimal crowds? I didn’t think a place like this could exist…
I thought long and hard about how I would describe my time surfing in the Maldives, and only one term sums it up: the Maldives is the land of best case scenarios. Here’s why:
Best case scenario #1: our boards arrived in one piece
Once we’d all boarded the yacht, and set sail on day one, there was this elephant in the room that nobody wanted to address. If you’re a surfer who’s flown with a surfboard, you’ll know the feeling. I think our boards stayed wrapped and ignored for at least the first 6 hours until someone bravely initiated an unpacking ceremony. We huddled on the deck and gave each other moral support as one by one we checked on the status of our boards, which had now endured two international flights. Luckily, all our boards got away relatively unscathed. Thanks Emirates.
Best case scenario #2: fun crew
When you know you’re going to be confined to a boat for 10 days with total strangers, one of your first prayers is: “Please don’t let the other guys be a bunch of dicks”. The friendships you make on surf charters are like none other: I’m not entirely sure why the bond forged is so tight, but I think it has something to do with the phrase, “what happens on the boat, stays on the boat”.
Best case scenario #3: the warmest water (and weather) I’ve ever experienced
Coming from the cold waters of Cape Town, surfing in baggies/bikinis is a rare luxury. Coupled with 35 to 38 degree temperatures everyday, it’s the epitome of tropical. At times it was so hot, I didn’t know whether to be in the water or on the boat: both were equally as warm. Retiring on a SUP or surfboard under the hull of the catamaran became the go-to destination to survive at midday. For some I guess this would not exactly be a best case scenario, but for me, I’ll never complain about a bit of tropical weather.
Best case scenario #5: minimal crowds and a relatively good attitude in the water
If I said that some of the breaks weren’t crowded, I’d be lying. Most of the spots in the North Male atolls are pretty crowded; we joined at least 4 other charters when we pulled into a spot for the day. However, because of the close proximity of the breaks, and due to the standard of surfing (which is quite low), we never found crowds or attitudes to be a problem. But, hey, when you’re swimming around with a camera in the line-up, everyone’s generally your new best friend so what do I know…
Best case scenario #6: encounters with friendly sharks and other sea-life
There have apparently been no shark attacks in the Maldives since 1976 but this didn’t stop my South African shark paranoia every time I jumped off the yacht and swam (speedily) across the deep and dark channel towards the break. The reef drop-offs in the Maldives are pretty steep, so before you know it you’ve gone from 100m to 5m depths. It’s pretty scary when you peer down through your mask. My first encounter with a black-tipped reef shark definitely spooked me, but with more frequent encounters (I saw at least one every session) I came to really enjoy their company.
Best case scenario #7: consistent, friendly waves
I visited the Maldives in July and we managed to surf every single day, at least twice a day. Apparently the best time for surfing in the Maldives is from mid-Feb to November, but height of monsoon season sits around June/July. And monsoon season it was: pretty frightful squalls hit us out of the blue almost daily, but disappeared as soon as they arrived, and it would return to another beautiful day.
Best case scenario #4: the clearest water I’ve ever seen
For most of the reasons I’ve already covered, the Maldives is the perfect training ground for aspiring surf photographers or GoPro enthusiasts (and diving, snorkelling etc. but that’s already a well-known fact about the region). My primary goal of this trip was to work on my water surf photography; and I was in my element. Every time I swam out into the line-up, I took my mask. At times I didn’t know whether I should be shooting above or below the water. The sea life beneath the surfers was breathtaking: turtles, manta rays, reef sharks, cuttlefish, all kinds of fish. And as I dove under to investigate all of the marine life, I could clearly watch the surfers glide past on transparent walls of water. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
Best case scenario #8: plenty of down-time
We structured our days into morning and afternoon surf sessions, and sometimes, when the waves were really cooking, we’d squeeze in a mid-afternoon session as well. So down-time really equated to sleep-time so we could muster up the energy to get back out there. Lazy surfed-out moments turned into fishing expeditions, snorkelling, SUPs and excursions to the land. It was the first surf trip I’ve been on where I actually prayed for a flat day, so we could go and enjoy all the millions of other super cool ocean-based things on offer. Even if you didn’t surf, you’d have something to do on a surf charter in the Maldives.
Best case scenario #9: pick your wave, any wave
Often the question when planning a surf trip is should I do a land surf camp or do a surf charter. The thing about being on a surf charter is that you’re mobile; whereas most of the Maldives surf resorts charge to transfer you to other breaks. In a place like the Maldives, there are a plethora of surf breaks within a short distance – so there’s always something to find and surf. Whether you’re goofy-footed or regular, whether you’re a beginner or practically a pro, you’d be able to surf something, somewhere.
Best case scenario #10: a surf charter you can afford
Maldives has always been on my bucket list for a surf trip but year-after-year I’ve been quoted upwards of 35k (ZAR) or a 10-day trip. Hell for that price, I’d rather hit Hawaii or the Ments. Maldives Yacht Charter (the trip I was on) is priced around R25k all-inclusive. It’s quite a steal in my opinion.
As the sun set on our final evening, we made our way back towards the protected anchor spot behind the island. Beers in hand, we sat on the bow and watched the waves continue to fire as the light faded behind us. Our attention was interrupted as a pod of spinner dolphins appeared below our feet and jumped and swam in the bow wake, about a metre underneath us. None of us bothered to run and grab our cameras; it was just one of those perfect moments we wanted to be present in. As we neared the channel, the dolphins disappeared into the deep blue beneath us, and with that, Joe, our skipper shouted from behind the wheel: “Just another shit day in paradise hey okes!”