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