The proposal to develop Thanburudhoo near Male’ as a boutique surf resort will halve the number of breaks open to local surfers and particularly impact safari operators due to the limited access, a group of local surfers have claimed.
According to the July 2011 proposal, submitted by senior Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) figures and Telos Investment, Telos would receive a 50 year lease on the military training island to develop a “boutique surf resort”, in exchange for US$5 million to develop an MNDF training facility on nearby Girifishi.
According to the proposal, the 3.6 hectare island “does not have the normal beauty found in Maldivian resorts”, as it does not have natural lagoon or sandy beaches. Furthermore, the strong currents limit recreational swimming, and therefore “the only development for Thanburudhoo which is sensible is that of a boutique surf resort.”
The surf resort would “open its doors to Maldivian surfers for a special surfing session twice per month,” the 2011 proposal notes.
“Unlike other resorts which do not allow local Maldivians to surf, Thanburudhoo would make available two surfing sessions per month, most likely Friday mornings or Saturday afternoons.
“The Maldivian surfers coming to Thanburudhoo for the special local surfing session must be in good standing with the Maldivian Surf Association and must abide by all the rules and regulations of Thanburudhoo surfing activities. Generally understood, the local surfers will not be on the resort island per se, but in the water surfing.”
Local surfers have slammed the idea. In a document circulated on social media, ‘Surfers’ Report on Thanburudhoo’, they argue that the island has two of the atoll’s four accessible waves (Sultans and Honkeys).
“If Thamburudhoo is a resort the only two accessible waves in the atoll are in Himmafushi (Jails) and Thulusdhoo (Cokes) – the number of accessible waves in the atoll is halved from four to two,” the document states.
Most of the waves in the atoll are claimed by their respective resorts, including Tombstones (Full Moon resort), Ninjas (Club Med Kani), Lhohis (Hudhuranfushi) and Chickens (Kuda Villingili).
The development of Thamburudhoo would lead to overcrowding of the remaining two waves, which “already have four surf camps each”, the surfers argue.
“There are 8-10 or more safari boats in this atoll during peak surf season. Each safari boat will have between 8 -12 surfers. Surfers from tourist resorts’ surf transfer boats can number between 10 – 30 or more from each resort. There are surf transfer boats operating from Dhonveli, Hudhuranfushi, Club Faru, Club Kani, Four Seasons, Paradise and Bandos expected each day,” the document claims.
“Surf tourism is putting food on the table for a lot of families and overcrowding of these waves could be disastrous to these surf camps. It is not right for the safari boats either since the number of surfable waves in the atoll just halved from four to two – they will lose clients or maybe even their businesses.
Furthermore, “Surf tourism is growing fast in the country and there are a number of locals who depend on these clients for their paycheck, such as; the surf guide, the captain and crew who work on the boats, and the people in the ofﬁces that operate these safaris. Some of these safari operations are not strong enough to run trips to the outer atolls. Besides the waves in most other atolls are not as consistent as the ones in North Male Atoll.”
As a result of the development, “surf tourism in this atoll will not be sustainable.”
Currently, Thanburudhoo was the only island in the atoll “that is freely accessible to both locals and foreigners. It is an uninhabited island and doesn’t have any local surfer population. Hence, no one can claim more ‘rights’ to those waves,” the surfers said.
“Maldivians have been surﬁng for centuries. Long before any white man showed up on these shores, or before anyone ever thought of making ﬁberglass surfboards, or before tourism was even a word. Blocking access to our waves is against sustaining a part of our culture. We believe that all the waves in this country should be free for all local waveriders to surf. These are our playgrounds.”
Minivan News sought comment from President of Telos Investment, Dr Gunnar Lee-Miller, however he had not responded at time of press.
Lee-Miller has previously stated that a “robust development plan” was being put in place for local surfers, and that discussions were under way with the Maldives Surfing Association over the issue.
The proposal stalled under the Nasheed government, according to former Economic Development Minister Mahmoud Razee, “partly due to timing”, but also concern over providing access to the surfing areas around the island.
However the development has now proceeded under the new administration, after the MNDF formed a joint venture company with the government last week.
In its original proposal, the MNDF argued that the development would allow needed infrastructure development on Girifushi.
“Since it began operations 22 years ago, Girifushi has never benefited from crucial infrastructure improvements. Without a proper harbour, and with outdated mechanical systems and insufficient support structures, Girifushi cannot sustain the operations and personnel it must so as to continue to be a productive base for the MNDF,” the proposal stated.
“Girifushi must undergo vital infrastructure improvements and thus, along with the construction of a leadership centre, this proposal seeks to acquire funding for the two most important infrastructure upgrades for Girifushi – a proper harbour area and increased area through land reclamation.”
The US$5 million obtained from Telos in exchange for the lease of Thanburudhoo would be “stretched” by deploying MNDF personnel to help build the leadership centre, the proposal notes.