BREAK AWAY

Jo Ken­nett en­joys a surf­ing ad­ven­ture from the com­fort of a spa­cious cruiser in the Mal­dives

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

THE first thing that hits me is the colour of the wa­ter. It looks sur­real, as if some­one has filled the ocean with daz­zling aqua­ma­rine jew­els. The bright­ness is bro­ken by the snow-white wake of tra­di­tional wooden dho­nis and power­boats buzzing in and out, fer­ry­ing pas­sen­gers to and from Male’s wa­ter-lapped air­port.

The ar­chi­pel­ago of the Mal­dives is south­west of In­dia in the In­dian Ocean and com­prises al­most 2000 is­lands and atolls. But my des­ti­na­tion is a 30m mo­tor­boat called Haveyli, where I’ll join a so-called sur­fari around North Male Atoll with an­other solo fe­male surfer, seven Aus­tralian males (two of whom I know well from surf­ing hol­i­days in In­done­sia), a Brazil­ian and a young Cal­i­for­nian.

It is dark when we board Haveyli, which is built along the lines of a tra­di­tional Mal­di­vian ves­sel but with dec­o­ra­tive lat­tice­work al­most in the style of a Bavar­ian chalet. We are wel­comed by the crew and shown to our cab­ins, which are spa­cious, but the sur­prise is the bath­room, which on most boats is a closet-sized space shared among all on board. Haveyli’s cab­ins each come with a bath­room­sized en­suite.

The crew hand us fresh co­conut juice but we are soon on to Tiger beer, bom­bard­ing our Aus­tralian surf guide with ques­tions. We go for a tour of the boat and are sur­prised at the amount of space over large decks on three lev­els.

Early next morn­ing the mo­tor wakes us and we soon an­chor be­tween Jail­breaks, a good right break, and Honkys, a left-hand wave. Break­fast is at 6.30am, and with 2m sets and a light off­shore breeze, it’s not long be­fore ev­ery­one hits the wa­ter.

The weather is warm and we spend most of the day in the ocean. Be­tween surfs there is a big lunch to re­fuel for the af­ter­noon ses­sion and time to laze on the shaded decks. Late in the af­ter­noon we head for our first anchorage, be­hind Him­ma­fushi Is­land.

We pass One Palm Is­land, a tiny strip of sand set with a ta­ble and chairs for two. In the evening we lounge on the top deck, watch­ing the sun­set, drinks in hand. Fac­ing us over the la­goon is a clus­ter of over­wa­ter re­sort bun­ga­lows. It seems al­most too per­fect.

Early the next morn­ing our surf guide ra­dios a friend and learns that there are seven char­ter boats be­tween a spot called Chick­ens and Cokes and the surf is pump­ing. He makes the call to stay be­tween Jails­breaks and Honkys and for most of the day the breaks are un­crowded and the surf is top qual­ity, so ev­ery­one is happy.

The good surf breaks in the North Male Atoll are close to­gether and only a short cruise from Male, the tiny cap­i­tal of the Mal­dives. This means more time in the wa­ter, al­though it gets more crowded than at the outer atolls.

Some of the re­sorts, such as Hud­hu­ran­fushi, send out reg­u­lar dhoniloads of surfers, so we try to time our surfs around theirs or sig­nal the dinghy and move across to an­other break when the boats ar­rive. Even if we end up with a small crowd, there’s just some­thing in the balmy Mal­di­vian air that chills out the most hard­core surfers, so it’s never a prob­lem.

Haveyli has an ex­cel­lent dinghy and the driver is on call to take us wher­ever we want, when­ever we feel like it. At one stage, the 11 of us are di­vided be­tween two surf breaks, a snorkelling spot and two is­lands, so there’s plenty of free­dom to do our own thing.

There is also a tra­di­tional dhoni along­side: at 5pm each day it mo­tors off to the break to wait for any late surfers, while the big boat goes to an­chor in the lee of some ridicu­lously beau­ti­ful is­land.

The surf drops to just over a me­tre on the sec­ond day and holds for the week, thanks to a big storm seven days ear­lier. The waves are fast and at places such as Chick­ens there are bar­rels to ride, al­though the cur­rents get fairly strong on the spring tides.

The surf sea­son runs from April to Oc­to­ber and the weather dur­ing our hol­i­day is per­fect un­til the last day, when it rains and the wind goes on­shore. This gives the se­ri­ous surfers a chance to see what won­ders lie be­neath the sur­face, and they seem thrilled by the snorkelling ex­pe­ri­ence.

Haveyli is de­scribed by World Sur­faris char­ters as the best bud­get boat in the Mal­dives, a claim that is hard to dis­pute. The boat, crew, food and ser­vice are all first rate.

Al­though World Sur­faris is aimed at surfers, there are plenty of other ac­tiv­i­ties. Cruis­ing to a new break at dawn, we spot dol­phins, sail­fish in full flight, tur­tles and manta rays.

The days pass slowly, filled with surf­ing, swim­ming, snorkelling, fish­ing, ex­plor­ing and laz­ing on deck, jok­ing with the crew. We se­lect our spots for sundowners each evening, as dusk closes in on an­other sub­lime vista of palms, white sand and what surely must be the bluest wa­ters on earth.

The coral is said to be still re­cov­er­ing from a sud­den rise in ocean tem­per­a­tures in 1998, but the bril­liant kalei­do­scope of marine life of­fers some of the best snorkelling and fish­ing in the world. Seventy-five per cent of the world’s reef fish species in­habit the Mal­di­vian atolls, and the wa­ter tem­per­a­ture is an av­er­age of 27C.

One af­ter­noon, two of our group are dropped ashore to pho­to­graph the surf at Chick­ens. The is­land was once home to a poul­try farm, long since aban­doned. Big diesel gen­er­a­tors and a gi­ant whale­bone lie amid ru­ined build­ings and palms.

The crew have brought the dhoni into the beach by the la­goon for clean­ing, so we wan­der over to get a lift back. The wa­ter is milky green over the white-sand bot­tom and we can’t re­sist a swim.

We take pho­to­graphs of each other and the dhoni but per­haps th­ese will prove su­per­flu­ous: the nat­u­ral beauty of the Mal­dives is im­pos­si­ble to erase from me­mory.

Check­list

World Sur­faris can ar­range flights from Aus­tralia to Male. Al­co­hol can­not be taken in or out of the Mus­lim repub­lic. There are weekly de­par­tures aboard the 20-pas­sen­ger Haveyli (Satur­day to Satur­day) from April to Oc­to­ber. World Sur­faris also runs is­land-boat or is­land-only pack­ages at Hud­hu­ran­fushi re­sort: th­ese in­clude trans­fers to surf breaks. More: www.world­sur­faris.com.

Pic­tures: Jo Ken­nett/World Sur­faris

Life’s swell: Bril­liant blue seas, con­sis­tent waves, en­tic­ing la­goons, a laid­back life on shore and a com­fort­able, spa­cious cruiser, the Haveyli, to come back to make a Mal­dives sur­fari one to trea­sure

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