WE ARE THE CHAM­PI­ONS

THE CHAM­PI­ONS TRO­PHY - THE CON­TEST NO ONE WANTS TO LEAVE

Carve - - CONTENTS - WORDS STEVE ENG­LAND

Steve Eng­land suf­fers the aw­ful tor­ment of an over­wa­ter villa with an in­fin­ity pool at the best con­test in the world.

It was a weird feel­ing head­ing to the Mal­dives for this year's Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy. Clear wa­ters, per­fect waves, the 'world's most lux­u­ri­ous surf comp'. "What is not to like?" I hear you ask. Well, the trou­ble was I had dif­fi­culty en­vis­ag­ing how they would top last year's event. I mean the waves pumped with Sul­tans as good as it gets, the vibes were epic, and no one wanted to leave. I shouldn't have wor­ried. Four Sea­sons know how to make life spe­cial, and as for the waves, well I think Tropic Surf boss and con­test di­rec­tor Ross Phillips has some sort of magic wand.

“We must have done some­thing. We must be blessed.” CJ Hob­good

“It’s how peo­ple imag­ine life as a pro surfer to be. Ex­cept we never had it this good. Nowhere near." Josh Kerr.

I’m pretty low main­te­nance, but some­times at­tend­ing surf con­tests as a jour­nal­ist is not that glam­orous. Shuf­fling past the por­ta­ble toi­let to an out of wa­ter cof­fee ma­chine in a six by six pre­fab full of slightly di­shev­elled and unloved surf jour­nal­ists hid­den be­hind the mop cup­board, and judg­ing tower, you won­der if we would be bet­ter treated with an elec­tronic tag and not a me­dia band.

Four Sea­sons is a world away. After an air-con speed­boat ride through the atolls, we ar­rive to beat­ing drums, happy smiles and some­thing I couldn't put my fin­ger on… Jo­hann who looks after all the press was his charm­ing self, yet slightly eva­sive.

“I hope you like your room. Let me know what you think. I’ve got to go to a meet­ing."

“I’d sleep in the ham­mock just to be here Jo­hann,” I replied.

Five min­utes later and a quick buggy ride I am be­ing dropped off at the over­wa­ter vil­las. The creme de la creme of the five-star re­sort's ac­com­mo­da­tion. I walk through the door to see the la­goon beyond a pri­vate in­fin­ity pool framed by a huge pic­ture win­dow. With im­pec­ca­ble tim­ing a four-foot black reef shark cruises past. Small fish scat­ter, the ocean breeze ruf­fles the pool, waves gen­tly pass be­neath the over­wa­ter ham­mock. My jaw drops. It is the best place I’ve prob­a­bly ever stayed. I’m slightly at a loss. Lost for words for Jo­hann, as to what I should do next, and as to how I got to be here in the most lux­u­ri­ous villa of a five-star Mal­di­vian re­sort. You may have seen the video on our In­sta­gram sto­ries. It doesn't do it jus­tice.

I un­pack my board and wan­der down to the dock to find out a rough sched­ule of the weeks events.

“The surf is good, and there is no one out. When would you like your speed­boat out…?” “Erm…”

“No wor­ries, it's ready and wait­ing for you when­ever you are ready. Just shout…” “Erm…”

It would be rude not too.

After a three hour surf with four or five out and a speed­boat ride back to the is­land, we are walk­ing back up through the palm-lined walk­a­ways. All the staff seem to know my name. “Hello, Mr Eng­land.

“Wel­come back Mr Eng­land."

As pleas­ant as ev­ery­one is, and as well as I know a lot of the staff now, I am pretty con­fi­dent I haven’t met any of th­ese peo­ple be­fore, but they all seem to re­mem­ber me...

A quick change and it is off to the wel­come cock­tail party. Pleas­antries are ex­changed be­tween the crew of judges, surf guides, pho­tog­ra­phers and videog­ra­phers. I see James Rodd, the drone pi­lot and re­sort pho­tog­ra­pher ex­traor­di­naire.

“James, some­thing weird is go­ing on…" “What do you mean…"

A woman I’ve never met be­fore ap­pears from the tiki torch­light...

“Ah, Mr Eng­land I see you have no drink in your hand. Let me change that…"

It’s like be­ing James Bond. Ex­cept I go for a San Miguel.

I ex­pe­ri­ence seven days of be­ing treated like roy­alty. And I’m not the only one. Freddy P, the Kerrs, the Hob­goods, Alejo and his new wife and child, Fuku Areef - the lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive, are prop­erly VIP’D. The sen­ti­ment be­hind this ex­pe­ri­ence was not lost on any­one.

“It’s how peo­ple imag­ine life as a pro surfer to be. Ex­cept we never had it this good, nowhere near,” says Josh Kerr

“It's like they know what you want be­fore you have even thought of it," says Cort­ney Hob­good.

I con­tem­plated th­ese words as I was walk­ing along the la­goon shore a day later in the trip. As I do so, I think “An ice cream would have been nice…"

Randy, the re­sort man­ager, ap­pears from nowhere with a tray.

“Home­made ice-cream?"

That's how it was.

Ev­ery morn­ing I pressed the but­ton that raised the elec­tric blinds to re­veal the la­goon I put on Moby's James Bond theme. It had to be done!

Freddy P’s laugh­ter flows over the waves. Wher­ever you were on the is­land, his laugh seemed to float by. Through the palms, over the la­goon, from the pool, from the bar. The only time he stopped laugh­ing was when he lost his semi-fi­nal heat.

high fived. He’d joined the Four Sea­sons Me­mory Mil­lion­aires.

As we all know it is tough call­ing a con­test on. Ross didn't like the pres­sure at all. He’d be up early check­ing the swell, the wind, the cur­rents. Even in a place that had pretty much per­fect waves ev­ery day in my eyes, he felt the pres­sure. He just wanted that win­dow, the golden hour, well three golden hours to show ev­ery­one how good this place can get. Judg­ing by the past events he was the man for the job. Ev­ery year had been good, each get­ting pro­gres­sively bet­ter swells. Last year the fi­nals were in­sane; the swell ris­ing and Taj get­ting bar­rels where none seemed to ex­ist. I wasn’t sure it could get any bet­ter. All the usual swell fore­casts seem un­re­li­able out here, and they looked av­er­age. Not to Ross. He pre­dicted ev­ery win­dow down to min­utes. Ev­ery call made on seem­ingly un­per­ceiv­able changes in swell direc­tion, pe­riod, and a few feet in the tide. I like to think I know a bit about swell pre­dic­tion, but this bor­dered on black magic. As the last or next to last out surfer out of the lineup ev­ery day (try­ing to keep my 7-8 hours av­er­age up!) I'd get one last wave, pad­dle to the boat, get a RIB back to work base (The Four Sea­sons Ex­plorer), have a shower and plug in the com­puter. In that time, each time, it went from good and very fun, to bonkers bar­rels reel­ing down the reef.

“How does he do that?” I ask CJ.

“I dunno, man. He’s some sort of ma­gi­cian,” he says.

On the fi­nal day, the swell rose got more con­sis­tent and was good as it gets. As good as I have ever seen it in my Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy his­tory any­way. And I thought it was pretty good last year. Wrong again!

Moby's Ex­treme Ways seemed to res­onate with me for some rea­son. Not be­cause of the Ja­son Bourne movies. More for a few lines. "The colours of my sea, the per­fect colour me.”

The colours of the sea swept out to the sun­set. Shades of blue, deep­en­ing to the hori­zon. The hush and swish of the ocean ris­ing from be­neath. The trop­i­cal breeze upon my face. Son surfed out snooz­ing on the veranda. I've lived very close to the sea, but apart from on boats, never over it. Life doesn’t get much bet­ter. Since time im­memo­rial, hu­mans have been cap­ti­vated by wa­ter. Some of us more than oth­ers. I’ve read a lot about hu­mans re­la­tion­ships with it re­cently. How it af­fects moods, de-stresses, and how our body may recog­nise pri­mal sig­nals that take us back into a dis­tant past the hu­mans had a much closer re­la­tion­ship to the sea. I have seen this al­lure in real life. I mean you only have to watch chil­dren on hol­i­day run­ning for the sea. Or if you have been for­tu­nate, like I have, watch­ing a lone adult who has spent their whole life in an ur­ban me­trop­o­lis see­ing the sea for the first time. It has a pro­found ef­fect. It is like they feel free. To watch waves is mes­meris­ing for most of us. To live among the ocean felt ground­ing, nat­u­ral. To be in those mo­ments of tide and time, which al­though won't wait, un­doubt­edly slow when you have time to ob­serve them. That is one of life’s lux­u­ries.

Of course, you can live in par­adise and have the same views but have a much dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. There is much go­ing on in the world at the mo­ment that makes peo­ple for­get the im­por­tant things. It’s a world where peo­ple are pre­judged on eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, jobs, where a per­son with thou­sands of so­cial me­dia fol­low­ers can still feel lonely, unloved and un­wanted. What makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween a trip and the trip of a life­time? Mostly shared ex­pe­ri­ences and so­cial in­ter­ac­tions. That is what makes surf­ing so great. A world cham­pion is just as much a surfer as some­one tak­ing their first steps. There is no such thing as a re­tired pro, and they still need their fix. And they ap­pre­ci­ate your head dip as much as their le­gendary dredg­ing pit at Chopes or Pipe. Which you don't re­alise un­til you have two chargers of the ilk of Freddy P and CJ Hob­good de­mand­ing you tell them about your two-sec­ond sur­vival stance hair wash on the in­side sec­tion on a three-foot wave.

“Tell us, man. We tell each other bar­rel sto­ries. We love it!” says Freddy 'the ever stoked’ CJ is nod­ding and en­cour­ag­ing.

I’m in­cred­i­bly em­bar­rassed by the whole sit­u­a­tion. All I can think of is CJ at stand­ing tall

To watch waves is mes­meris­ing for most of us. To live among the ocean felt ground­ing, nat­u­ral.

in huge Chopes tubes, and Freddy drop­ping in late at Pipe and get­ting spat into the chan­nel. It wasn’t even a good tube by Newquay Bay sum­mer stan­dards in my mind, but they don’t care. They are so stoked on the day's events they are bounc­ing and want to talk story. While I can un­doubt­edly em­bel­lish a surf story with a beer in my hand as good as the next surfer, this was not hap­pen­ing. I po­litely, if slightly clum­sily change the sub­ject and es­cape. But it did high­light a point. Judges, com­peti­tors, me­dia, or­gan­is­ers, lo­cals. We were all out there shar­ing amaz­ing times. Times we will never for­get.

“We just love hav­ing the surfers here,” ex­plains Jo­hann. “They bring a spe­cial vibe. Ev­ery­one re­laxes. Even the guests feel it."

That may be true, but hav­ing some knowl­edge of tourism and hospi­tal­ity I know to man­age a re­sort of this size and for ev­ery­one to have a good time all the time, and leave hav­ing been made to feel so spe­cial comes down to the hosts.

I was chat­ting with a few of the staff, and the way they ex­plained it to me was, "We are shar­ing some of the most spe­cial mo­ments in peo­ple's lives. To be here and help make those mem­o­ries that they will re­mem­ber for­ever, that is a priv­i­lege.”

And that what makes this event spe­cial. What Four Sea­sons em­brace is that the ul­ti­mate lux­ury is time, and the ul­ti­mate re­ward of the job; to be able to give ex­cep­tional ex­pe­ri­ences.

As we left on the top deck of the speed­boat, the staff wave us off into the dis­tance.

“We must have done some­thing … to be treated like that,” says CJ. “I mean … We must be blessed.”

It was that good.

Josh Kerr won the event and will re­turn in 2019. You can be there to watch him de­fend his ti­tle and have once in a life­time ex­pe­ri­ence at the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy. If you would like the full lux­ury surf­ing ex­pe­ri­ence Four Sea­sons at Kuda Hu­raa have launched a 'Surf's Up Pack­age’ with round-trip speed­boat trans­fers, guided boat trips to surf breaks, and coach­ing op­tions from be­gin­ners to ad­vanced: Search Four Sea­sons Surf’s Up pack­age.

The over­wa­ter wing has three ex­cep­tional la­goon-top suite cat­e­gories: The Three-bed­room Wa­ter Suite with Pool, Two-bed­room Wa­ter Suite with Pool and the Fam­ily Wa­ter Villa with Pool. www.foursea­sons.com/mal­diveskh/of­fers/ surf­s_up_­pack­age/ With spe­cial thanks to Jo­hann and Ju­liana at Four Sea­sons.

Ker­rzy en­joy­ing him­self.

Fuku hav­ing a break be­tween heats on the judge's boat.

Lo­cal spec­ta­tor.

Four Sea­sons over wa­ter vil­las. The Carve of­fice for the week was sec­ond from right at the top!

An­other lo­cal.

The best judg­ing plat­form in the world?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.