Antony ‘Yep‘ Colas, author of the Stormrider Surf Guides takes us deep into the Maldives and talks private waves, surf tourism and why after all these years he loves the Maldives.
When was your first trip to the Maldives?
May 1998, as a journalist, I got a free stay at Club Med, which was located next to Malé (now in Kanifinolhu island facing Ninja’s). I surfed small Tombstones for a few days before understanding Sultans area was much better. I met Tony Hussein, negotiated a 55usd / day at Tari Village, facing Pasta. Epic 6-8ft flawless swells. I had a blast !
What do you love most about the Maldives?
The Maldives is an absolute waterworld below and above the surface. Feels like another planet : no land, no roads, no cars…well, very little compared to the ocean mass and boat numbers. And low wrapping peeling waves on reef pass edges…Glassy days make unreal conditions, SW monsoon winds offshore on the rights, NE monsoon perfect for the lefts. And demographics is very low, lots of deserted islands…Water is always warm, even deep..
How are resorts legally allowed to charge people for access to a surf break?
Hotel groups in the Maldives pay huge amount of money to be granted a 25 years exploitation lease. The land is so small that resorts tend to think that the outside reef line is part of the deal. Legal experts I met said the property line only covers land & lagoon. Some resorts even tried to privatize scuba-diving reefs but it did not work because controlling access is sketchy. For breaks like Pasta Point and Lohi’s, it’s easy for the Watersports management to chase outsiders with a dingy / jetski. It rarely happens anyway because safari boat owners will not let guests create any troubles.
Are there plans for more private surf breaks?
The Thamburudhoo (Sultan’s / Honky’s) issue is the main worry so far. The previous government has signed a deal with Telos Investment Group to build an exclusive “Surf Boutique resort” on this army-owned island (by MNDF). The deal is : Telos builds a new military training ground so they can have Thamburudhoo for their tourism project. I just returned from North Malé and nothing’s been done yet. There will be presidential election in September and investors are waiting for the results because political instability is a real threat for the Maldives future. Last year’s Coup proved that democracy is still not a reality.
How much does the local government understand and support (or not) surf tourism in the Maldives
They don’t’ give a shit because they have to deal with lots of various internal problems. Maldives is a new emerging country, money has been flowing heavily and life’s been changing very fast for its people while traditions remain very vivid, creating all kinds of disorder (ever heard of the 15 years old girl raped by his uncle and sentenced to 100 whips ?)
Tourism-wise, safari boat only represent 6-8% of the bed capacity, resort get the lion’s share of the support. The bulk of the guests are honeymooners, now mostly from Asia and Russia while Europe declined from 75 to 55% within the last 10 years.
What are the challenges for local young surfers in the Maldives?
Considering that there are 100,000 people in Malé, the number of surfers / bodyboarders is incredibly low. Mainly 50-100 kids & some rare grown-ups really willing to enjoy the ocean. Even those local guys are not crazy on surfing, don’t take me wrong, they love it, but they’re not hardcore like Hawaii or Polynesia. For those kids, the dream is to drive a car in Malaysia, go hiking in Sri Lanka, shopping in Singapore or stepping in snow in Switzerland… The drug problem in Malé is really intense, many teen-agers in Malé, get bored because their fathers were keen fishermen and they don’t really know what’s the next step. The happiest young surfers are on islands but surfing is only for kids, not for adults.