MAL­DIVES

TAJ BUR­ROW, ROB MACHADO, CJ HOBGOOD, ROSS WIL­LIAMS, MAYA GABEIRA AND KUDA ISSEY BAT­TLE IT OUT ON SIN­GLE FINS, TWINS AND THRUSTERS FOR THE FOUR SEA­SONS MAL­DIVES CHAM­PI­ONS TRO­PHY TI­TLE - THE WORLD'S MOST IN­TER­EST­ING, AND LUX­U­RI­OUS SURF CON­TESTS.

Carve - - CONTENTS - WORDS BY STEVE ENG­LAND PHO­TOS BY SHAUN SCOTT UN­LESS OTH­ER­WISE STATED

Ed-in-chief Steve Eng­land has been high-fiv­ing the great and good in par­adise. Taj, Maya, CJ, Ross and Machado star.

Iwas sat upon the roof of a tra­di­tional Mal­di­vian dhoni the Acara. Two boats sat bob­bing in the chan­nel. A fruit bat soared across the skies head­ing to roost un­known on the small is­land. Per­fect rights peeled down the reef to­wards me. A hand­ful of surfers sat, chat­ted and rode waves through the lineup. I had no thoughts other than to try my hard­est to take in every shade of blue as the reef dropped off in the deep wa­ter. Every de­tail of veg­e­ta­tion on land, the land­scape near and hori­zon far. To make the most of that mo­ment in time, to try and stretch it so it lasted for­ever...

If there's one thing that life has taught me it is to breath in every minute of the spe­cial times. Whether that be the golden hour down your lo­cal beach, or for those lucky enough, times like this. I think I have be­come more ap­pre­cia­tive, more aware of the need to make the time over the years. Es­pe­cially since the dawn of so­cial me­dia, the grey­ing of work/life bound­aries and a new dawn in pol­i­tics. I needed time out. Time to un­plug, re­set and re­con­nect with the real world. Or in this case the un­real world of the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy.

And so I sit un­der a para­sol on the roof of a boat aside an un­in­hab­ited trop­i­cal is­land. The breeze is cool­ing my back, po­larised lenses play­ing with the glint of the ocean, waves rolling down the point and hand­ful of peo­ple with no other wor­ries than to en­joy that mo­ment. I take time to just sit and watch. The ridicule of the ‘de­vel­oped’ world is drain­ing from me

and into the chan­nel like the rem­nants of the play­ful waves rolling down the reef. It feels like a time that's al­ways been, that al­ways will be. Just the per­fect set­ting frozen in time. I won­der if ev­ery­one I am ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it with feels the same way. A mo­ment shared with a few spe­cial peo­ple, away from the lu­nacy of dig­i­tal me­dia and ridicu­lous pol­i­tics. Away from profit and loss, cur­rency fluc­tu­a­tions, GDP, Brexit, flag wav­ing and na­tion­al­ism. The only things that mat­ter right now are sun­screen and hy­dra­tion, and how quickly I can get to the lineup. My dreams are far from faded away, they are vivid, real and lay in front of me. Ev­ery­thing else can wait.

Iron­i­cally one of the first things you have to get used to at ‘the worlds most lux­u­ri­ous surf con­test', is the Four Sea­sons staff and the Tropic Surf guides try­ing their hard­est to pro­vide a friendly yet un­ob­tru­sive five star service. The guides just want you to feel like a king. By day six I’d kind of stopped fight­ing it, and by day seven I was re­luc­tantly go­ing with the flow on the board car­ry­ing. High speed lux­ury speed boats I can deal with, some­one car­ry­ing your board? Not sure I ever will...

Back on the ten­der after a surf I was ad­mir­ing the gloss and pol­ish on a gleam­ing red sin­gle fin when Maya’s voice floated over. 'I had the gloss coat put on es­pe­cially...' She had ar­rived at Four Sea­sons very much like a 50’s film star. Au­drey

Hep­burn sprung to mind. Nat­u­rally con­fi­dent, friendly dis­po­si­tion, easy to smile and laugh, with an un­forced grace and style. She wasn’t as tall as I thought, for some­one who rides waves that would make most of us cry, for a woman who has died twice chas­ing her dreams. As much as last year I was blown away by Beth Hamil­ton's skill and fit­ness this year it was Maya’s love of surf­ing and com­plete lack of ego. Usu­ally big wave surfers have an edge. You can feel it, even when they try and hide it, even out of con­text. Some­thing bub­bling deep within. That drive. Most are slightly al­pha, even the women are edgy. Maya is just ... nice. There's no tell, no giveaway to what she does or to how far she pushes hu­man en­durance, which is be­yond the edge.

I ask her,'why big waves?' She tells me she just loves surf­ing and didn't want to miss out. When it got big at her lo­cal beaches and she couldn’t surf she felt she was miss­ing out. So she just de­cided to surf big waves too. And that was it. She just wants to go surf­ing. I can’t tell you how im­pressed I was with her, or how funny it was watch­ing over amped in­ter­me­di­ates ha­rass­ing her for soft three foot waves. If she was any­where near me when I was on the peak I just nod­ded her in. She can have any wave she wants in my book. Like Su­per­woman with­out the cape.

Maya was up against a heavy crew in the con­test. Taj was de­fend­ing his ti­tle against last year's run­ner up, Rob Machado, who was, I think, the first surfer ever to be in­vited back. Per­son­ally I'd in­vite th­ese two back every year. Taj is still shred­ding even after a year post ‘re­tire­ment’ and he em­anates such a happy vibe as he bounces into the room or onto boats. He shouted the whole bar cock­tails one rainy af­ter­noon. Le­gend.

Machado at 43 is as tight, nim­ble, fast, loose and stylish as ever. In fact I'd go as far as to say he is prob­a­bly surf­ing as good as he did in his glory days of Tay­lor Steele's films. I also love the fact that peo­ple still be­lieve Rob is some kind of hippy

as he is noth­ing of the sort. Laid back yeah, time for ev­ery­one yeah, but in­tel­li­gent, switched on, funny and has the com­pet­i­tive fire run­ning deep within. Ta­ble ten­nis, foot­ball, surf­ing, any­thing com­pet­i­tive, he doesn’t want to lose. I've seen the look in his eye first hand and it is slightly scary! On the other hand he doesn’t take him­self too se­ri­ously ei­ther and is quick to cel­e­brate with his op­po­nent which­ever way a heat goes.

Be­tween them th­ese two surf­ing greats set the tone for the other com­peti­tors and guests who come to watch the comp, surf and re­lax. Friendly, fun, ed­u­cated on the finer de­tails of com­pet­i­tive surf­ing, and just stoked to be there they make ev­ery­one feel at home.

One day on the Ex­plorer - the lux­ury cat that served as our base and of­fice - I had a chat to Four Sea­sons PR guru Jo­hann. He had worked with ath­letes in many sport­ing ar­eas in­clud­ing F1 and was over­whelmed by how ap­proach­able pro surfers were in com­par­i­son. I guess our top ath­letes never re­ally lose their ground­ing as they have to surf with us lot ev­ery­day. Where as F1 driv­ers and the like spend most their time train­ing, in ex­clu­sive VIP ar­eas, par­ties or locked away in res­i­dences. It was also in­ter­est­ing how the com­mon love of surf­ing can bond all from multi mil­lion­aires to swell chas­ing vagabonds, teenagers to 60+ hard­ened 'surf for lif­ers', lo­cal is­lan­ders to for­mer world champs. No airs or graces, just a nod and a “How good was to­day?” And off they/we all go… The com­mon shared ex­pe­ri­ence and love of an en­tirely fu­tile pur­suit is prob­a­bly the ul­ti­mate lev­eller of so­cial bound­aries.

In ad­di­tion to Taj and Rob we have CJ

Hobgood, equally nice, and equally has not lost any of his com­pet­i­tive na­ture. 2001 World Cham­pion, ab­so­lute charger at Teahupo'o, hucker of one of the mas­sivi­est airs in his­tory, star of the vi­ral video 'face­plant into rock’ and one of the most stylish goofy foots on tour ever. Kuda Issey (Is­mail Miglal) is rep­re­sent­ing the Mal­dives with a twin fin that I noted had magic qual­i­ties in his warm up surfs. In a fan­tas­tic twist of fate he is also a grom that Tropic Surf owner and con­test di­rec­tor Ross Phillips gave a board to on one of his first vis­its to the is­land chain over 25 years ago. Kuda is now three times na­tional champ and in 2015 founded "Raalhu Ed­huru": a Male­based surf school with the mis­sion to ex­tend the sport’s reach to kids in non-cen­tral atolls through com­mu­nity-based spon­sor­ship pro­grams. Give a kid a surf­board and you can never tell where they end up. I'd say Ross's in­vest­ment was more than paid back. Es­pe­cially when Kuda went on to beat CJ on said twin fin in front of a cheer­ing lo­cal squad who had come to watch from the chan­nel. Good times!

Ross Wil­liams rounded off the lineup Ross’s in­clu­sion meant a highly qual­i­fied gallery on the back of the Ex­plorer analysing each turn, every ride and throw­ing out scores. And there were some epic heats, real back and forth, ride

for ride, goofy ver­sus reg­u­lar humdingers across all cat­e­gories. As each day went on the surf got bet­ter, the surf­ing got bet­ter and Taj even started throw­ing tens. It would take a Her­culean ef­fort for any pro to take out Taj on a right with a long shral­pa­ble wall, air sec­tions and long tight bar­rels, but Hobgood and Machado did their best. Taj would ul­ti­mately edge it against Machado in the grand fi­nal, the only mar­gin in re­al­ity be­ing a full blown Taj tail high hack that put the Aussie out of reach. You can watch the video on­line to see what it meant to fam­ily Bur­row.

Three days of prob­a­bly the best surf­ing Sul­tans has ever seen flew by. Sin­gle fins, twin fins, thrusters, with every heat surfed as if it was world ti­tle de­cider. It was epic to wit­ness. In most other sports when top play­ers walk away they stop train­ing, stop play­ing but surfers never truly re­tire, they all carry on surf­ing. And as long as they are surf­ing they want to surf their best. I cast my mind back to Taj's epic heats at Tres­tles and won­dered how he would fair in the up­com­ing CT. A year off tour may have damp­ened his fit­ness lev­els a lit­tle, but you would have to say in a de­cent swell he’d prob­a­bly still be mak­ing quar­ters and above. If the lefts switched on I'd also bet Machado would be up there too.

And there it was, as Taj vic­tory danced to the tra­di­tional 'bodu beru’ drum­mer, cham­pagne popped and cock­tails were or­dered the judges started sneak­ing off the Acara and into the lineup. I posted the re­sults across the so­cial me­dia, pulled on my rashie and awaited a ten­der to ferry me out to the all but empty lineup. A four hour surf was on the cards. Maybe longer de­pend­ing on how long the arms would last.

A fi­nal surf with friends as the sun dipped while drink­ing the turquoise wa­ters as deep into the mem­ory bank as pos­si­ble. High line rac­ers into the chan­nel, high fives and one last ride on the speed boat back to base for the clos­ing cer­e­mony. The Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy 2017 was done. An­other epic week spent with im­pec­ca­ble hosts and bunch of leg­ends.

In essence this is a con­test, and a hard fought one at that. In truth it's a gath­er­ing of surfers in one of the most fab­u­lous set­tings on Earth. A time to dis­en­gage from the bom­bard­ment of bad news and re-en­gage with things that mat­ter. Things like friend­ship, the won­der of na­ture and the blessing of surf­ing with all that it brings. Some­times all it takes is a golden hour down your lo­cal beach, some­times, and you never know when with surf­ing, you too could end up in the place like this.

Many thanks to Tropic Surf and Four Sea­sons Kuda Hu­raa for the good times. Full high­lights are on carvemag.com

If you would like to at­tend next years event go to: www.surf­in­gcham­pi­onstro­phy.com

If you would like to visit Kuda Hu­raa go to: www.foursea­sons.com/mal­diveskh

Kuda Issey was given a board by comp di­rec­tor Ross Phillips as a grom. He re­paid the kind­ness by be­com­ing three time Mal­di­vian champ, set­ting up a char­ity to help young lo­cal surfers and beat­ing for­mer world champ CJ in the twin fin divi­sion. ROI? Price­less

Main: CJ Hobgood send­ing it sky­ward. He surfed every heat like his world ti­tle was on the line

Right: Sul­tans pass lo­cal

Bot­tom right: Taj and Maya prep­ping

Taj lay day fun and hack­ing the in­side sec­tion

Main: Taj tail out, and throw­ing fans.

Right: Taj #win­ning

Bot­tom right: Taj's 'fi­nance di­rec­tor‘ Rebecca Job­son and So­phie Machado - the events un­of­fi­cial en­ter­tain­ment man­ager

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