Save the wave!

This article is by Isha Afeef

The government’s plan to build a bridge connecting the capital and the airport island may destroy the Maldives’ most consistent surf break at Malé’s Raalhugandu, surfers have said.

“These surf breaks cannot be built like football grounds. They are forces of nature, and a bridge in the area will destroy my hometown’s wave. This is disastrous for anyone who surfs,” local surfer Hassan ‘Zakitte’ Irfan said.

Housing minister Dr Mohamed Muizzu told Haveeru last week that the US$100 million Malé – Hulhulé Bridge will run from Malé’s south east corner at Raalhugandu to the end of the airport runway at Hulhulé. A second survey of the ocean basin is ongoing.

The government says the bridge will increase connectivity between Malé and its suburb Hulhumalé, where 20,000 people live. The bridge is to be completed by the end of 2017.

Over 90 percent of Maldives’ surf athletes practice at Raalhugandu, while a majority of local surfing competitions and several international competitions have been held there.

Although Raalhugandu has weathered through severe damage to Malé’s reef from the construction of a sea wall, and the reclamation of land from the ocean, the placement of the bridge’s pillars may affect the ocean currents that form waves suitable for surfing in the area, local surfers have said.

Ahmed ‘Karo’ Fauzan, who has surfed at Raalhugandu for the past 20 years, says the bridge is bad news for all of Malé City’s residents. Nearly one-third of the Maldives’ population lives in Malé, and the Raalhugandu area is one of the few public spaces were Malé city residents can go for a run or a swim. Many people, old and young alike, while away the evenings at the various food carts, sipping on coconuts and nibbling on local delicacies.

“The impact of this bridge is bigger than a wave. It is going to lead to a loss of culture. We’re not living the way Maldivians are supposed to be living. We have no access to the natural resources in this city. Yet we’re living,” he said.

All of the nearby islands and lagoons have now been sold off for tourism, industrial or military purposes, making the loss of the narrow beach at Raalhugandu even more devastating.

For Karo, surf breaks are a natural resource that must be protected, not only because of the foreign revenue surfers bring in, but also because surfing for him is an expression of love for the ocean.

Dhafy Hassan, a female surfer, agrees: “I am in love with my country because of the ocean and the beaches. I think every Maldivian is proud of our natural beauty no matter what. Surfers, divers and fishermen, we have this beautiful excuse to be in the water, this is what makes us who we are. But if the bridge is built, that will be taken away from us. Why destroy what makes us?”

The possible loss of Raalhugandu comes as a big blow for local surfers, especially since the government in 2011 sold off nearby Thamburudhoo island, home to the Maldives’ best waves. Tourism revenue from the island will go to military welfare.

“With no other spots nearby, this bridge will become a huge blow for our community. We treat her as our home. We don’t litter here or make her dirty.” Ahmed Aiham, 16, who has just recently started to surf, said.

Karo, who also worked on the “Save Thamburudhoo” campaign, said Maldivians must fight for the waves. He also said the bridge may also disrupt another wave at Hulhulé island.

He has urged the government to reveal details of the environmental impact assessment of the bridge, and said the government must factor in the loss of Raalhugandu wave before approving development.

Meanwhile, Hussein Fayani, at Malhu surf school, said funds allocated for the bridge should be invested to improve the ferry system between Malé and Hulhumalé. His school teaches 25 children, aged between four and six, how to surf every month.

“Building the bridge is not something that should be done at all,” he said.

Environmentalist Noorain Jaleel described the bridge as a “selfish and inconsiderate step in the name of development.”

“How far will we go till we understand how delicate our environment is? How vital its balance is, even to us mighty humans. The currents, surfs and tides have their roles. Selfish inconsiderate steps in the name of development will one day bring all of us to our knees. Better planning with serious consideration of the environment will take us a long way. For our future generations. You are answerable for them.”

The Maldives Surfing Association and the Maldives Body Boarding Association declined to comment on the issue, saying they are working on a plan for discussions with the government.


Australian surfers followed, photographed, questioned for hours by Maldives police

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has confirmed that it held three Australian surfers in Male’ for five hours of questioning yesterday (August 31), before releasing them without charge.

The surf tourists, who arrived in the Maldives on August 30, were wearing ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ t-shirts, in support of a locally-led awareness campaign against the privatisation of a local surf break .

“The three Australian men were not in police custody, they were being questioned in regard to an ongoing investigation,” Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today (September 1).

“They were released without charge right after being questioned,” he added.

Haneef was unable to state why the Australian surfers who had been in the Maldives for around 24 hours would be involved in a prior investigation, or why they were being followed and photographed, explaining that the investigation was ongoing.

Asked why questioning the Australians took five hours, Haneef said he would need to clarify the details of the investigative process with the MPS Criminal Investigation Department.

Multiple sources in the surfing community with knowledge of the incident told Minivan News the Australians were questioned because government authorities thought they were involved in a political protest against the current government, due to their ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ t-shirts.

Maldivian law prohibits foreign nationals from participating in political protests.

“The Australians have been followed and photographed [by police] since they got to Male’,” a source speaking on condition of anonymity told Minivan News.

“The police kept the Australians in custody for seven hours and checked their camera memory cards,” said another person familiar with the matter. “But they were not involved in any political protests.”

The ‘Save Thamburudhoo’ campaign aims to raise awareness and end surf break exclusivity in the Maldives, particularly the practice of resort islands shooing visiting local and foreign surfers off ‘their’ breaks. The campaign has been led by local surfers in partnership with the Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) and the Liveaboard Association of the Maldives (LAM), and has been widely covered in international surf media.

Thamburudhoo has become the campaign’s focal point, as it is the only uninhabited, untouched island near Male’ with a publicly accessible surf break . However, the island is currently owned by a Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) co-operative company that is seeking bids to develop a resort on the island, which would limit access to the Thamburudhoo’s left and right-hand breaks, known locally as ‘sultans’ and ‘honkeys’.

The proposal was first submitted in 2011 under the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government, but appeared to have stalled until it was revived under the new government in early 2012.

Under 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,” the proposal stated.

A ‘Save Thamburudhoo Expression Rally’ organised by MSA and LAM was planned to be held yesterday (August 31) but has since been delayed.

The rally would have involved over 24 vessels cruising between Male’s surf point ‘raalhugandu’ and Thamburudhoo’s surf breaks, as well as a petition to end surf break exclusivity.