The Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) held a barbecue and screened a local surfing documentary earlier this week in an effort to promote the sport in the Maldives.
The MSA’s Chairperson, Mohamed Shiuneel, says such events are necessary to promote the sport because surfing’s development in the Maldives has largely been restricted to the resort industry, which in some cases he says have even claimed ownership of surf breaks.
“Maybe it’s because tourism is growing so fast – even safari boats are now [claiming] surf breaks,” he says.
Local surfers have competed very successfully in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka, Shiuneel notes.
“The government can help us – we need to protect the surf point areas,” he says. “There are many environmental issues that can affect them. For example, when the artificial beach was reclaimed it really affected the Male’ surf break.”
Pro surfing was famously introduced to the Maldives in 1973 by an Australian surfer called Tony Hinde, who was shipwrecked in North Male’ Atoll during a voyage from Sri Lanka to Africa. Hinde named many of the country’s most popular surf breaks, giving them names like Sultans, Jails and Honkeys, before falling in love with the country and deciding to stay.
He converted to Islam, changed his named to Tony Hussein Hinde, married a local woman, opened his own surf tourism agency, and died of a heart attack after riding a wave in 2008.
Shiuneel explains that while Hinde introduced pro surfing and introduced short boards, “Maldivians have been here since the second century. Many people like my grandfather talk about Maldivians surfing on a plank of wood.”
In recent years the Maldives has begun to attract an increasing number of professional surfers, drawn for the same reasons as Hinde. Accessing many of the breaks remains a challenge however, with many restricted to those with either local knowledge or those who stay in a nearby resort.
“A lot of people don’t know how to access some of the breaks, and beginners can struggle to get access to surfboards,” Shiuneel says, acknowledging that sport is not as easy to take up as it should be.
“I think we live on a small island and have a very defensive mentality. It’s a geographical problem as much as anything. And While the Surf Association tries its best to run development programmes, we do struggle for funding.”
Surf politics and issues of funding matter little to many of the clubs members. Asim ‘Chin Chon’, who describes himself as “a local legend”, says surfing “is the best sport for the Maldives. You shouldn’t be driving around the island in a sports car – instead, every house should have a surfboard. This should be normal for an island city.”
“Look at it, it’s God’s gift,” he says, sweeping his arm at the waves breaking on the nearby seawall.
“It’s relaxed; there’s no jet skis, just paddling out on a board – that’s nature.”
The surf documentary will be available from the Sea Sports store in Male’ and the Maldives Surfing Association in a week’s time.