The 2012 Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy concluded on Sunday with the top prize going to two-time world champion Damien Hardman.
The 46 year-old Australian narrowly defeated three-time world champion, US contender Tom Curren, to win the grand prize of US$10,000 – on top of his US$6000 winnings for both the Single and Twin-Fin divisions.
“I can’t remember the last time I won sixteen grand,” Hardman said, following his win, the trophy for which was presented by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.
“The standard of surfing was great, we’re all in our mid to late 40s but it doesn’t matter how old you are if you put the work in to maintain your fitness and ability.”
Accepting the trophy for the runner-up, Curren used the opportunity to highlight the imminent privatisation of the Thanburudhoo surf breaks – including the competition break Sultans – by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
“The break at Sultans is under threat of privatisation. There should be a consensus about that – local surfers need to be respected and the discussion needs to continue,” Curren said.
Under the proposal, Singaporean investment firm 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. Local surfers would be permitted to surf the breaks twice a month.
Maldivian surfer Hassan ‘Ibu’ Areef, who won the Four Seasons local title and a prize of MVR 25,000 (US$1621), told Minivan News that Sultans was one of the most accessible and consistent waves for local surfers, and one of the few left in Male’ Atoll that had not been privatised by upmarket resorts.
“There are limited places for local surfers to go,” he said. “If the breaks are privatised, we will have nowhere to go and practice, and private surfing businesses and safaris will also be affected. It is really sad.”
“This is not all about money; it is about enjoyment as well. These people to not really understand surfing culture. They only see a business opportunity,” Ibu said.
The privatisation of the competition-standard break would deny local surfers a home ground advantage during big competitions, he pointed out, “because we will not have been able to practice there.”
Other local surfers have also 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 Thanburudhoo 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).
Sparked by the tournament’s international media attention, the situation has begun receiving attention from surf publications around the world.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that privatisation not only infringes on local surfers’ rights to freely access the reefs and islands they’ve inhabited and lived off for centuries,” reported South African surf news website Zig Zag.
“It also ensures any visiting surfers who can’t afford to pay the prices of these ’boutique’ resorts will instead be forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for a set at the last two quality spots in North Malé. The knock-on effect could even lead to surf tour operations going out of business – why go on a surf trip when you’re not allowed to surf half the waves? The end result would mean locals not only lose out on waves, but for those employed by, or operating their own surf tour business, their very livelihood could be threatened,” the site reported.
Local surfers present at the Four Seasons’ event seized the opportunity to confront the Defence Minister about the proposed privatisation, following the presentations. Nazim reportedly promised further discussions.