A surfing newbie comes face-to-face with her first real wave at Como Maalifushi in the Maldives.
“All right Muscles, you’re up next!” shouts the tanned, Aussie bloke as he motions for me to get moving. It’s a nickname woven from a thousand lies, but I take the compliment anyway. Keeping my eyes locked on the beach, I start paddling.
In my mind, I’m in a Hollywood blockbuster, playing the part of a really hot surfer who’s riding the waves like a pro. In reality, I’m a newbie who’s trying her hand at surfing. The bronzed bloke doing the shouting is Adam Webster, an instructor at Tropicsurf, a partner company of Como Maalifushi in the Maldives. And I’m there to surf at Farms, a 40-minute boat ride from the aforementioned resort.
Como Maalifushi is the lone resort on Thaa atoll and is an hour south of Male by seaplane. It’s one of the more secluded resorts in the country, though that’s set to change when another resort opens for business in the next year or so.
An amalgamation of land and overwater villas, suites and residences, the 65-key Como runs at nearly full occupancy during peak season, but like its contemporaries in the Maldives, sees a dip in tourism numbers during monsoon season, from May to October.
Since it pours day and night, it takes a special kind of masochist to voluntarily shell out good money for an overwater villa, but the place is catnip for surfers. The Maldives during the monsoon season is an untapped goldmine for surfing—with strong winds from southern Africa creating waist-high swells and cranking waves.
Having been in the business for over 25 years, Tropicsurf’s instructors are masters at chasing waves and hunting down that white whale of the most exotic surf breaks, discovered either by speedboat recce or chancing upon them during seaplane journeys. And it so happens that one such rarity occurs near Como Maalifushi and its neighbouring Dhaalu and Laamu atolls.
But blink and you’ll miss it. It’s pretty much open water, and depending on the direction of the fickle winds, a spot with breaks to kill for could also be as flat as a runway. This makes the allure of surfing in the Maldives all the more thrilling, as surfers may have to hop between spots to catch fleeting waves. TLC may have cautioned against chasing waterfalls, but the R&B trio’s advice could also be applied to surfers chasing waves in the Maldives.
I count myself among that number. Though I’d call myself a surfer in the loosest possible sense, because up until now, the only experience I’ve had was nearly a decade ago in Torquay, Australia, which went less than swimmingly. I face-planted into the sea with every wave I attempted, and still have photographic evidence (worst AUD40 spent) to prove it.
Thankfully, Tropicsurf’s newly discovered waves are in ‘secret locations’, unmarked on maps and known only by local boatmen who know the sea like the back of their hands, meaning that there’s no one (apart from those in my group) to see me fail. Plus, if nobody posted it on Instagram, said failures never actually happened.
Being the lone barney (see the ‘Surfing for Dummies’ sidebar for a glossary of terms) in a group of experienced surfers, I head for an introductory Lagoon Lesson by the Como Maalifushi jetty, one of the three programmes offered by Tropicsurf. My coach for the day is the sun-kissed, Italian-German Giulia Conte, a lady of many hats, having been a professional synchronised swimmer before becoming a yoga and surf instructor. In theory, there are just three steps to riding a wave. Square your hands firmly on the board, tuck your right foot
to where your left knee is, then push yourself upright. It’s meant to be done in one smooth motion, and after a few dry runs on land, we make our way to waistdeep water.
To mimic conditions at open sea, Conte has to give my board a push to create a wave, as the momentum makes it easier to balance on the board. In a miracle of sorts on my first try, I’m standing and riding my first man-made wave, which feels a lot less intimidating than it looks. I subconsciously perch on the board from start to end. Never thought I’d say this, but the Asian squat has finally proven its usefulness. Subsequent rounds see me cruising comfortably, gaining confidence with each successive wave.
After graduating from my beginner’s class, it’s time to be thrown into the literal and metaphorical deep end, complete with Webster’s coaching.
“Faster!” Webster shouts from afar. I do my best to pick up speed, paddling as hard as I can, with a tangle of worries knotted at the back of my head. In all honesty, though, my nerves were just symptoms of me being a terminal worrier. Farms is a fairly newbie-friendly surf site, with manageable waves and an unobstructed view of the island’s greenery. The only worrying bit is a shallow coral reef that sits just beneath the waves.
Just a three-minute ride away sits another surf spot in plain view, one that’s accompanied by a visible shipwreck more suited for advanced surfers. Apart from my group of six, there’s nobody in sight. The wind picks up, with dark clouds hovering in the distance and a lone fruit bat journeying between the islands every now and then. Consider surfers’ paradise found.
I feel the waves swoop in from behind, buoying my board. I can do this—all I have to do when the wave hits is to stand up, maintain my balance and ride it to the shore. Mind over matter, right? Wrong. The spirit was willing but my body was weak. In the split second of hesitating to stand up on the board, I hurtle forward. Time turns to treacle as Westlife’s ‘Flying Without Wings’ plays in the background. I flip head first into the sea. Saltwater gushes up my nose. I tumble in circles. I got worked, big time. It takes a while for me to gather my bearings, and thankfully, coral cuts don’t mar my face. No guts, no cuts and definitely no glory in this scenario.
In my ignoble paddling back to Webster, I dream of the contrasting, peaceful life at Como Maalifushi, where every corner of the resort has been optimised to promote relaxation and tranquillity. The overwater villas are generously spaced out for privacy, where you leave your worries—and clothes—by the door and enjoy a soak (or skinny dip) in the ocean-facing infinity pool. Whiling your afternoon away at the outdoor sala also makes for a well-spent day, meditate, enjoy a catnap and have the butler come bearing in-villa meals.
But it’s be a pity to stay cooped up during meal times, especially when your dining choices comprise three open-air restaurants, including a Japanese restaurant that’s graced with a killer sunset view. Nurse sharks and marbled rays dance around the shallow house reef every evening, while a lone octopus propels itself from coral to coral, oblivious to the gaze of watchful and eager eyes. And surprise, surprise, there’s always someone in the group who thinks out loud and wonders if said octopus qualifies as ‘catch of the day’.
But surely the pinnacle of serenity involves two very skilful hands kneading your body to nirvana? The standalone Como Shambhala overwater spa villas don’t just promise a session of bliss, they provide a peek into what a sun-drenched heaven could possibly feel like. So I could have definitely settled for an uneventful day on land, and yet, here I am, paddling for my life.
“The waves didn’t come all the way from southern Africa just to pick you up,” laughs Webster. Nope. Instead, they came to flip me over, given that subsequent surfing attempts had me chucking over repeatedly, swallowed by the ocean, and spat out like Jonah.
An hour and a half later, just before we’re about to call it a day, I finally catch my big break—if you can call it one. Repeated beatings have stripped me of whatever confidence (and energy) I had, but eventually, I do the Asian squat for an entire wave, remaining rooted on my board from start to finish. It’s an unglamorous, ugly win, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Webster jokingly tells me after: “There were times there that you looked like a small frog hitting a windscreen.” Not quite the look I was going for, but fairly accurate.
Given enough time and dedication, I might become semi-decent at surfing, but even if I could spend more time on the board as opposed to tumbling about aimlessly in the water like a piece of trash, it’s a sport with fairly little return on investment.
You paddle for five minutes, wait for the right wave to come, and surf for as long as the waves last, which could be about 30 seconds. Plus, to ride crowd-free waves, you’d need to shell out a pretty penny for a boat charter. Isolation and luxury come hand in hand and at a price, and Como Maalifushi has nailed it with its list of hidden glassyovertoned breaks.
Which begs the question: two lessons and multiple board-flipping incidents later, do I enjoy surfing? No, unless I wake up one day and decide that I live for repeated near-drowning experiences. Then perhaps I’ll take up Como Maalifushi’s Surf Pass offer, which takes seasoned surfers on a private chartered boat to catch more than 20 secluded surf breaks around the atolls.
On the other hand, try everything three times before deciding if you like it, right? Since I’m already on my second, it’s just one more to go, and you know what they also say about being third time lucky… You can book your stay online or call +960 678 0008.
There are some excellent breaks near Como Maalifushi as well as a string of uninhabited private islands,where there are seasonal hammerhead and manta ray sightings.