Wave rider

A surf­ing new­bie comes face-to-face with her first real wave at Como Maal­i­fushi in the Mal­dives.

Esquire (Singapore) - - Travel -

“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.

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