President awards Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy

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.

Nasheed dancing Bodu Beru with the surf champions

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”.

Reehan surfing with Layne Beachley

“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.”

"Best experience of my life" - wildcard entry Reehan

“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.


Six surfing legends compete for trophy in inaugural Maldives comp

Australian surf legend Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo narrowly defeated seven-times female world champion Layne Beachley yesterday in the single fin division of the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy.

Beachley knocked out two-time world champion Damien Hardman in the semi-final, while Occy defeated world longboard champion Josh Constable to go on to face Beachley.

The first day of the invitational event saw the six surf legends – Occy, Beachley, Constable, and Hardman, as well as four-time world champion Mark Richards and Nat Young, compete at the Sultans break near Four Season’s Kuda Huraa resort.

“This morning I surfed with Mark Richards and I kept on falling off in front of him and he said ‘I’m hexing you’, but it was the pressure of competing against my idol,” said Occy, following his win.

Speaking to Minivan News between heats, Beachley explained that it was unusual for female surfers to compete against men at such an elite level of the sport.

“The ability and depth of skill has really improved in women’s surfing and has helped bridge the gap in performance [at the professional level], but it’s not really fair to pit a lightweight boxer against a heavyweight,” she said. “One big difference is that our hips get in the way when we turn – it’s an anatomical disadvantage. It’s not a worry for recreational surfers but it matters at a professional level because women can never have the technical finesse of the top guys.”

Despite the camaraderie between the champions there was, Beachley noted, a very strong competitive undercurrent.

“When you’re surrounded by world champions there is a mutual respect because we know what it takes, but when we’re paddling out no one’s there to lose,” she said.

“It’s very competitive. No guy wants to lose to a girl. The boys are amped. Their pumped up, even if they’re pretending to play it down.”

Female professional surfers, Beachley observed, tended to take not just the sport but also their responsibility as role models for other female surfers very seriously, and most were “well-spoken ambassadors.”

Beachley herself was on a board at Manly beach in Sydney Australia by age four, competing in mens heats at 15 and turning professional just a year later. By the age of 20 she was ranked sixth in the world, and in 1998 went on to win the world championship for six consecutive years.

“I always took pride in training harder than anyone else. I would be doing boxing, swimming, dune running, weights and yoga. I had a very strict cross-training regime,” she told Minivan News.

Beachley's husband, INXS sax/guitarist Kirk Pengilly, gives his wife a quick massage between waves

Asked about developing the female surfing scene in the Maldives, Beachley suggested that female surfers should “band together, and make sure the guys understand that girls have as much right to be in the water as them. Then work your way up the food chain. Don’t cry victim, it’s not the best way to get respect. Instead show tenacity and confidence and let the guys know it.”

Beginner surfers, she noted, faced not just the technical challenges of learning the sport but also the unspoken etiquette and rules that could only be passed on by other surfers.

“Beginner surfers really need to utilise a surf school,” Beachley said, “not only to because they teach the fundamentals but also the unspoken etiquette. One of the problems with surfing is that the rules are unspoken.”

In contrast to many famously territorial surf destinations, Beachley said the Maldives had a reputation for hospitality and the breaks for being “playful, fun, user friendly, more relaxing and peaceful than places like Indonesia and Tahiti.”

The country’s reef breaks, she said, were more predictable than beach breaks in that they followed a certain shape, and were easier to read.

“With beaches you have to quickly adapt to changes. The advantage to a beach break is that a sandy bottom is softer to land on,” she laughed.

Local surfer ‘Bongo’ was on hand during the Four Seasons competition to help out with conditions.

“Sultans is a right-hander, a very good wave for beginners and intermediate surfers. It has an easy takeoff and a slow first section, with time for 1-2 turns, and a nice barrel inside. On a big day it’s still a challenge. I like hollow right-handers, because I’m a natural footer,” he said.

The day saw offshore winds and 2-3 foot waves, “clean and glassy”, according to Bongo.

The competition, he predicted, would be “good for tourism” given the international publicity the big names would generate.

“Apart from that, we’re lucky to be out here seeing the legends of surfing ripping,” he said.

The Maldives has “2-3 guys like Ibu and Issay who might be able to bust a few aerial maneuvers and maybe challenge these guys, but Occy is tough competition,” he said.

“There’s also the matter of the handicap in the scoring system – older guys get more time in the heats, so I reckon the younger surfers stand no chance.”

He acknowledged that the Maldives had few female surfers dedicated to the sport, “which is really sad.”

“We’ve had a few girls try out, and some of them did very well. The problem is that it’s not easy for them to be out surfing every day, and you take a lot of bumps in a shallow reef break. All surf breaks in the Maldives are reef breaks, which makes it difficult for beginners.”

Despite the laid-back reputation of the sport, surfing remains largely a male-dominated sport with a reputation for being fiercely territorial and hostile for beginners. This was less of a problem in the Maldives given the seclusion of most breaks and the country’s dependence on tourism, he suggested.

“The locals are much more laid back than other places like Hawaii or South Africa, you don’t see scenes like the Hui or Black Shorts here. It’s mainly because all these breaks are secluded and the country is dependent on tourism – everyone is really friendly,” Bongo said.

Dhonveli’s Pasta Point and Huduranfushi’s breaks were exclusive for tourists, he said, “although if we want to surf them we just need to give the resorts a ring and ask. There’s no problem for local surfers.”

Modern surfing was famously introduced to the Maldives by Australian national Tony Hussain Hind, who was shipwrecked in the country but on his departure saw so many perfect surf breaks that he turned around and made the Maldives his home.

“He introduced modern surfing, but before that locals would body surf using planks of wood,” Bongo said. “Really, the full history of surfing in the Maldives is unknown.”

The Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy continues over the next few days with the double fin and triple fin events.


Surfing Champions 2011 trophy to be held August 31

Four Seasons Kudu Huraa resort will host six of the world’s most famous surfers for the 2011 Surfing Champions Trophy, starting from August 29.

Competing surfers include Josh Constable, Mark Richards, Layne Beachley, Nat Young, Damien Hardman and Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo, with over 20 world titles to their names.

The five-day event will take place from August 31 to September 4. Representatives from the resort said the event would highlight the Maldives as an attractive surfing destination alongside its already widespread fame as a dive destination.