“I be Blackbeard!” growls Wil as he emerges from below deck brandishing the chef’s rusty fish-filleting hatchet to a chorus of rising chuckles.
Elbowing the captain out of the way with a comedic tip of his fancy dress pirates hat, he grabs the helm. Adjusting the patch covering his left eye he looks toward the horizon, takes a long and exaggerated sniff of sea air, and completes the theatrical cliché with a loud “Arrrrgghhhhh!”. After ten days aboard the Sea Coral (reputedly the cheapest private surf charter boat in the Indian Ocean), some of us are beginning to lose touch with reality.
When it comes to prowess in the surf Wil, Marty, Dunc, Piers and I are by no means ‘the elite’. In fact, we’re just regular middle-aged nine-to-fivers, battling beer guts and babies, bound in friendship by our lifelong and rarely indulged passion for riding waves around the world.
Over the years, we’ve all travelled in search of swell and caught our fair share of belters, but as anyone who reads this here magazine knows, there are varying degrees of perfection. Connecting a few constringed turns in your 5:4 wetty at a Biarritz beach break is all very well, but what about the really good stuff? What about the mythical palm-fringed points along which translucent glass cylinders reel unridden over florescent coral?
We wanted to access the perfect and remote, and we knew that to do so we’d have to go by private charter boat, a mode of transport previously reserved solely for surfers of extreme affluence. Luckily for us, the price of perfection has been falling in recent years, and so this September we set out to modestly go where no wallet-conscious wave hunters had gone before… The Maldives.
As we pile off the pontoon in Male, the Maldivian capital, and onto the deck of the Sea Coral, the boat which is to carry us on our search for surfing Shangri-La, a slender and cool looking local lad of 20, with long hair, a wicked goatee, and a tie dye t-shirt, stretches out his hand to help each of us aboard. “Welcome brothers” he says “My name is Che’Che, and I will be your surf guide”.
It’s day two of the trip and after an evening spent anchored off the island of Anantara in the South Male Atoll (an atoll being a ring-shaped chain of islands, 26 of which comprise the Maldives), Che’Che has suggested we spend the entire day at sea and motor south to Meemu Atoll.
There he says, we will find protection from southerly winds, and exposure to the south west swell at a spot called Mushrooms. Trusting to local knowledge, we all agree and set about forking huge cubes of fresh lime-doused Papaya into our gobs, whilst the crew set about raising anchor.
Dolphins swim alongside the boat as we motor toward the break at Muli Island. We take them for a good omen and gather on the foredeck to check the surf. Zacky our captain steers us over to within a few hundred yards of the reef, kills the big diesel, and all falls silent. As the first set approaches Dunc and Marty raise their arms in unison.
Before long we’re all whooping and hollering, dancing around on the deck like kids around a Christmas tree. Che’Che wasn’t kidding; although the south west swell is small, it’s marching perfectly along the point. Not wanting to watch anymore perfect peelers go to waste, boards come down off the rack, get waxed, and sun cream comes out so faces can get lashed.
Soon we’re parked up at the peak, no paddle-out required, diving off the zodiac dingy into an empty line-up. We watch as Che’Che paddles for his first wave, pops, drops and smashes a cloud of spray off the top before disappearing down the point. Encouraged I take the next one. Down the line the wall pitches to vertical and becomes a perfect plate glass window to the reef below framed by bleached sand and hanging palms.
I look open-mouthed down the line, knowing it’s a view that will be etched into my mind for a bloody long time. As I paddle back up the point Dunc flies past me on an exact replica, head high, clear glass, screaming ‘Ahoooooo!’. After three hours of mechanical rights, all to ourselves, our arms are like noodles from paddling. Assuming things can only get better, we summon the skiff and hitch a lift back to The Coral.
Before we’ve had time to finish our beers Piers and Duncan paddle back to the boat, Piers with the nose of his board missing, and Duncan with a nasty purple golf ball ripening nicely on his forehead.
“I’m gunna fly like a bird man” says Wil as he skips past me in the moonlight and disappears up the ladder to the top deck. It’s 3am and we’re all over excited after our first day of superb surf. Having purchased a bottle of rum at insane expense (the Maldives is a strictly Muslim nation and alcohol is very hard to come by) from the small onboard bar, Marty, Wil and I have decided a diving competition is in order. Marty and I begin the contest, jumping conservatively from the main deck whilst Wil decides to go one better and jump off the roof.
“Oiii Oiiii” he yells, screaming into view and smashing the water head first, arms by his sides. Marty and I look at each other with pursed lips “OOOooooo”. Wil climbs back aboard and slinks off to bed with what we later discovered to be a perforated ear drum.
The next morning I’m on deck by 5am. The tiny top bunk and lack of air conditioning (a luxury we relinquished in the interests of affordability) aren’t proving to be a conducive combination on my quest for a restful sleep. After diving off the side to wash away the toils of the tropical night I surface and look toward the surf, which I discover, to my despair, has totally vanished.
Before long the rest of the boys are on deck scratching their heads and looking in the same direction. Che’Che explains that the swell won’t be returning for a good few days, and advises that we keep heading south to a spot named Mikado’s, on the island of Kanimidu. “It’s surfable even on a small swell” he says “and super sheltered for guaranteed glass”.
As we pull into Kanimidu bay at sunset on the following day, the empty perfection of Mushrooms seems an all too distant memory. Mikado’s, although head high and working nicely, is absolutely rammed. Four huge charter boats are anchored on the shoulder, and a total of 46 people are bobbing about at the peak. As we motor in closer we can hear the chorus of shouts and whistles as everyone jostles for position in the line-up. It’s not long before we’ve witnessed a few nasty collisions and some pretty heated exchanges.
Piers, Marty and Dunk decide to throw dings to the wind and jump in, whilst Wil and I crack cold beers from the safety of the poop deck and watch the sun go down over the desktop screensaver bay. Before we’ve had time to finish our beers Piers and Duncan paddle back to the boat, Piers with the nose of his board missing, and Duncan with a nasty purple golf ball ripening nicely on his forehead.
“It’s mental out there boys” says Piers as he passes us up his broken board “completely mental”. Dunc groans in agreement, whilst delicately prodding his increasingly angry looking head wound.
After dinner that evening a surf guide from the biggest of the anchored charters pays us a visit. He explains that the surf is dangerously busy and suggest time slots for the following day. Stunned that such perverse politics could exist in paradise, we can do nothing but agree to the only time slot available; 8am-10am (low tide). The guide leaves us with a smirk, knowing full well that Mikado’s is a mid-high tide break. Inevitably, come 8am the next day, the surf is flat and we are faced with yet another waveless morning. Left with no alternative we decide to motor south once more to our final destination, Six Senses, Olhuveli Island, Laamu Atoll.
‘Swoosh, boom’ goes yet another perfect green glass cylinder as it rolls overhead and explodes like the neck of a Molotov Cocktail on the reef behind me. It’s a sound I’ve always loved, the sound of a breaking wave from below the surface. A Hawksbill turtle flashes a friendly flipper in my direction before I break the surface, to see Mini-Mal Marty gunning straight towards me on a mirror like peeler.
As he crouches in the curl above the boiling reef, the wave takes on the look of liquid mercury, reflecting high striated clouds in the evening light. In that moment, as I dive quickly down to avoid a fin vs face situation, I realise, we’ve found what we came looking for.
The Sea Coral is part of a fleet of surf boats owned by Voyages Maldives. Being the smallest in the fleet Sea Coral is the bargain of the bunch, sleeping just six passengers (will sail with four) and five crew: captain, first mate, chef, sous chef and surf guide (optional). All in, full board, a ten day 200km cruise like ours, Male to Laamu, including international flights, a booze allowance for the moderate to heavy drinker and a handsome tip for the deserving crew, is going to set you back around 2000 quid (which so far as our research uncovered, is about as economical as it gets).
Perhaps the largest pro to boat-based surf exploration is the freedom to seek out and access otherwise inaccessible, largely empty breaks, and surf them with your best mates. Other smaller pros include; a constant warm yet cooling breeze, zero mosquito activity, an increased likelihood of marine life encounters and a decreased likelihood of food poisoning. Further more you will be besieged with freshly caught seafood each day, gently rocked to sleep each night under a blanket of more stars than a Geldof charity gig, and befriended by the local boat crew who will be excited not only to teach you dirty words in their native tongue, but to show you the best of their homeland.
Some of the not-so-hot realities of being boat-bound in the Maldives include being at the mercy of your shipmates, and the crew, which often means compromise. You’ll also have no option but to get up close and personal with your brethren, in hot and claustrophobic quarters. On top of that the islands mellow reputation means an abundance of total beginners in the surf which can add unwanted spice to your sessions, especially when things get crowded, which they do, and when they do, as we experienced, things can also get weirdly political too.
Ultimately, there’s no sense dwelling on trivialities. A trip like ours ‘almost’ guarantees you, and your mates, warm, empty, clean, mechanical surf, day after day, in what is perhaps our planet’s most pristine paradise. I can speak for all the boys when I say that it was the single most successful surf mission any of us have ever been on.
To organise your trip visit www.luex.com