World Champion Surfer Mark Occhilupo has won all three divisions of the inaugural Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, defeating longboard champion Josh Constable in the final and taking home US$19,000 in prize money.
President Mohamed Nasheed presented the trophy to Occy on board the Four Seasons Explorer, a luxury three-storey catamaran anchored near the Sultans surf break.
“We are people of the sea. We grow up with the elements around us, and the sea is never very far away. We are taught to swim from a tender age,” Nasheed said.
“44 percent of our workforce are fishermen, who spend more than half their lives on the sea, and many Maldivians looked up to famous surfers while growing up,” he said.
The relative seclusion of the country’s surf breaks compared to more famous surfing destinations such as Hawaii and Indonesia was not necessarily a bad thing, Nasheed said, “because we are not always clear about how to manage our resources. We have to use them wisely to benefit everyone.”
Nasheed told Occy that the Maldivian cabinet was not unfamiliar with the water, having conducted a cabinet meeting underwater in 2009. Occy asked if that was “the same as a cone of silence”.
Occy dedicated the champion’s trophy to Tony Hussain Hinde, the Australian-born surfer who pioneered modern surfing in the Maldives after becoming shipwrecked in the country, and who died in 2008.
Following the prize presentations, the six surfing legends, together with the President, Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, cabinet ministers and several MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) erupted into a spontaneous traditional Bodu Beru dance.
Final day of the competition
The six surfers, including two-time world champion Damien Hardman, four-time world champion Mark Richards, world longboard champion Josh Constable, 1966 world champion Nat Young and seven times female world champion Layne Beachley competed in one-, two- and three- fin divisions over the three days.
On the last day the Sultans reef break served up consistent four-foot right hand waves. During the final event, Occy required an 8.10 score to reclaim his lead, and waited patiently for a wave on which he delivered a 9 with full rail-to-rail maneuvers.
“I made a couple of mistakes, including losing priority, and I had to tell myself to just calm down,” Occy said of his performance.
“So I cleared my head and moved up the point where I needed to be and then a gem of a wave came through and I surfed it as good as I could and got that nine. I didn’t have one heat where I felt I was not under pressure. All those memories of being on tour came back and I had to rely on my instincts to win this event and now that I have, I am over the moon.”
Constable praised Occy as a “solid competitor”.
“I just couldn’t get him. He was on his game all week. I felt solid in the final and I had a good score but couldn’t get that back up so hats off to Occy.”
Sole female competitor Layne Beachley came close to taking the single fin division title from Occy in the final of the first day, and was only narrowly defeated.
“It’s been surreal competing against five male world champions and being a contender,” said Beachley, noting that such match-ups were rare in the surfing world due to the anatomical disadvantages women faced: “our hips get in the way.”
“I knew it was always going to be challenging but I stepped it up and gave them a run for their money,” she said.
Four-time world champion Mark Richards was forced to withdraw from the final day of the competition after suffering a hamstring injury, opening the way for Maldivian surfer Ali Reehan Mohamed to take to the water as a wildcard entry.
Grinning, the 18 year-old described that surf as “the best experience of my life.”
Confessing to an attack of nerves at being out among the world champions, Reehan said “I did my best to show them something.”
“It was very friendly, we were sharing waves,” he said.
Reehan has been surfing for two years, after upgrading from “fighting the white water on a body board”. He has since made his hobby into his work, freelancing as a professional surf guide.
“I stopped my last trip just to come here – I gave it to someone else,” he said.
General Manager of the Kuda Huraa Four Seasons Resort, Sanjiv Hulugalle, said the HSBC, Billabong, Wataniya, Surfing World and Singapore Airlines-sponsored event would return next year.
“The aim was to showcase the Maldives as a world-class surfing destination,” Hulugalle said, “and the international media has broadcast it all over the world.”
Reehan agreed: “With the media here, Maldives surfing is only going to get bigger,” he said.