Aishath Rizna maneuvered Kurumba Maldives’ two tiered speed boat out of the Malé harbour with an expertise surprising for a young captain who’d just gotten her license.
We were sailing against the wind, but her command of the vessel rivaled that of any seasoned captain – a post traditionally held by men. Rizna is the Maldives’ first active female boat captain.
“I feel confident on a speed boat. It’s really cool,” the 24-year-old told us 15 minutes later at Kurumba Maldives’ café lounge. She is sun-tanned, clad in a blue shirt and white shorts.
Rizna, also known as Rizu, joined Kurumba at the Children’s club three years ago, but jumped at the chance to train as a boat captain after Kurumba fleet manager Shameem offered the opportunity.
“The fleet section is traditionally an all-male section. This is very inspirational for the management team,” said a beaming Jason Kruse, Kurumba’s General Manager.
Rizu draws inspiration from her family which she says has a history of strong, self-sufficient women – proudly describing her mother’s skills for electrical work and how her grandmother still climbs trees at the age of 67.
She had grown up swimming, fishing, and driving boats as a child on northern Funadhoo Island in Shaviyani Atoll, before moving to Malé for secondary education.
“My father is a fisherman while my mother is a housewife,” said Rizu as she sipped orange juice. “When I was small I used to go fishing with my father on a small boat.”
Rizu said that her family is very proud of her becoming the country’s first active female captain, especially mentioning her father, who is very happy about his daughter’s achievements, encouraging her to move forward.
While school bored her, she always enjoyed snorkeling, diving, water sports. For her, working at Kurumba – and combining captaincy and recreation – is now a “vacation, more than work”.
Journey to captaincy
“When Rizu came, she was very quiet and shy, but you can see her confidence build throughout and now, she leads her own crew,” said Jason.
Rizu described her journey to captaincy as one of difficulty – training for a few hours every day during her free time – while recounting her very first boat lesson in which she spent over two hours practicing how to bring the boat to a perfect stop.
“The first few days were very challenging,” she explained. “It was very difficult but I always thought next time I will do better.”
Along with the practical aspects of boating – acquired from experienced captains working in the Kurumba fleet, she also had to learn the national regulations on seafaring and navigational theory.
“The crew was very helpful. They do not get angry at me even if I make mistakes, but instead they would give me a couple of lessons on how to correct my mistake,” said Rizu of the all-male crew under her captaincy.
Speaking of Rizu’s achievements, fleet manager Shameem shows great pride: “This is something I thought I’d never see.”
Opportunity for women in hospitality
Meanwhile, Rizu rejected rumours regarding female employees in the tourism industry.
“Resort managements have very good rules and regulations and local employees are not allowed to do whatever they want,” she said.
“People think that local employees would start drinking or go the wrong way, but we are not allowed to do any such thing,” said Rizu. “Instead, there are plenty of recreational activities to keep us occupied.”
Jason also highlighted the importance of increasing the female ratio of Maldivian employees in resorts, saying that there is increasing demand from female Middle Eastern clients for all female services.
“We are trying to increase our Maldivian female ration in the resorts. It’s a certain area we are making some changes in order to encourage more Maldivian girls to join the resort.”
Jason shared ideas of developing an all female crew speed boat which would be able to take such clients on excursions where they could confidently enjoy the full Maldivian experience by disrobing before a swim.
He shared Kurumba management’s ethos of breaking boundaries by getting more females into the industry, while pointing out that the resort currently employs two local women as trainee chefs and that the spa department was also headed by a woman.
Heading out from the resort back to Malé, Rizu said that becoming a boat captain is just one step towards her ultimate dream: “travelling to every island in the Maldives in my own boat”.