Surfing in the Maldives…
Advanced coaching trip – 21-31st July 2021
Jumping through hoops…
The 21st of July couldn’t come around soon enough; 10 days of surfing in the Maldives, on a luxury boat, with 9 surfers ready to take their surfing to new heights. However, in 2021, things were never going to be that simple…
With The Maldives still firmly planted on the UK’s ‘red-list’ for travel (despite their decreasing rates rates) the first issue was how to get to the island nation. After 47 facetimes, 154 screenshots and well over a thousand messenger conversations, a plan was finally decided. We would fly from Manchester and Aberdeen to Madrid. From there, board a direct flight to Male. Then we would have a 10-day ‘R&R trip’ in Spain before flying home, tanned, surfed-out, and full of Sangria whilst avoiding the hotel quarantine – easy!
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. After being ‘pinged’ by the NHS app a few days before the trip, our surf coach, Mark tested positive for COVID-19. Our coaching trip needed a new coach, fast! Fortunately, we had just the guy in mind – Pepijn Tigges from The Netherlands. After some seriously last-minute logistics, flights and COVID tests were booked and Pepijn dusted off his board shorts, ready for a welcome change from the North Sea. Meanwhile, with a solid swell hitting North Male, I flew out a few days early to scope out the crowds and sample what was on offer.
The 21st arrived and our guests began touching down in Malé International airport. The first to arrive were Bard and Ole from Norway, beaming through arrivals with line-up shots from the plane. Next, more Norwegian shredders; John and Jarand (aka Jiffy) came from Lohis resort looking forward to finding some rights. Then the Californian contingent arrived – Elad, Jody and Ken who stayed the previous night in Male to wash off the jetlag. Lastly, Julia and Dimitri; seasoned Russian surf travelers who we had actually said hello to in the line-up at chickens the year before!
The crew grabbed board-bags and headed for the Dhoni boat which would take us to our home for the trip. As Gurahali came into sight everyone’s jaws hit the deck. The traditional design and size of this boat really make it stand out from the rest. 28m long; it boasts 7 en-suite cabins with AC, a spacious lounge complete with bar, a huge sundeck on the roof plus several other chill-out areas. This is the ultimate way to experience surfing in the Maldives.
Want to join our next surf coaching trip on board the stunning Gurahali? Check out our 2022 advanced coaching trip
Feet in the wax…
With everyone itching to get in the water ASAP, we decided to head 40-minutes north to Himmafushi. Here the boat could anchor in the channel whilst the group split to surf Jailbreaks and Sultans. Our timing was perfectly between ‘shifts’ and we arrived at each break with less than 10 people out. Pepijn took John, Jarand and the Americans to Jails whilst I took Bard, Ole, Julia and Dimitri to Sultans. Clean chest to head-high sets proved the perfect introduction to surfing in the Maldives whilst washing off the travel funk. As predicted, at 15.55 3 more boats arrived at Sultans, turning the manageable crowd of 8-12 to closer to 30. This was our cue to head back to the boat and begin our sail south to quieter pastures.
We set sail just after lunch, aiming to get as far south as possible, before completing the rest of the cruise the following morning. En route was ‘Shark Island’; a Nurse Shark breeding ground situated directly in front of a fancy resort. As soon as we arrived, legendary Dhoni captain, Leed, began pointing to a couple 2.5m Sharks underneath the boat. Everyone grabbed masks and jumped in; unable to comprehend the number, size and calmness of the animals below. That was before a school of around 30 sharks swam directly towards us. For a couple of the guests this was a little too overwhelming (*cough John Jacobsen cough*). The group agreed this was undoubtedly the best snorkeling/diving experience of their lives, just a few meters below the surface! It’s not only surfing in the Maldives…
Stories were shared and friendships were built as Chef Simon cooked our first dinner of Tuna Sashimi, Maldivian curries, fresh veggies, dahl, and salad. We talk about food a lot on our trips, but it really makes a huge difference when you’re surfing up to 8 hours each day. Every meal is of restaurant quality and there’s always enough to satisfy even the hungriest surfers.
After dinner, we ran through a PowerPoint (yes, it’s still a thing) explaining the forecast for the week. Even though the intermittent 4G meant that the promised transitions didn’t work between slides, being able to see our route across the somewhat confusing layout of the atolls was welcomed by everyone. Elad even stated ‘that PowerPoint was honestly the highlight of my trip so far!’, despite having swam with sharks just hours before…
With a solid swells lighting up both sides of the central atolls, our decision was to be guided by the wind. A nice problem to have. With the next two days looking the smallest and windiest over the next week, we checked Riptides in South Malé with low expectations. As we sailed past the reef – seemingly in the middle of the ocean – it looked as if the swell was indeed a little too small. However, moments later a waist-high set peeled into the channel. Next, a chest-high set. Not long after, consistent head-high sets were being pushed in with the tide, with no current to and no people. Needless to say, the crew waxed up and jumped in! Everyone traded super rippable waves with nobody around for 2-hours until the high tide put an end to a great session.
We already had loads of clips to dig into, so after dinner everyone gathered around the TV for the first video analysis session. It can be daunting to watch yourself surf – even more so in front of people you’ve just met. But a Renegade coaching trip is a ‘safe space’. All of the guests had a great time cheering at the good waves, laughing at the wipeouts, and generally learning from each other’s mistakes. Pepijn’s passion for teaching and surfing is infectious and by the end of the session each guest had clear and concise goals in mind to work on the next day. Some of the guests were so frothing to put theory into practice that they couldn’t sleep…
Check out what some of our previous guests have had to say here.
Arriving in Muli, we jumped in at Mushrooms at dawn. A soft yet consistent right-hander which serves a perfect warm-up for the breaks further south. Despite the small swell and tricky SW wind on offer, Mushrooms (outside) and F1 (inside) gave us a couple of fun sessions between longer cruises. Once again, the empty lineups ensured everybody was already racking up a solid wave-count.
We’ve been surfing in the Maldives enough at this stage to know that the boat crew can make or break a trip . For this reason we’re careful to only work with the best operators in the Maldives. If we want to set sail at 5am the next morning, you can bet the engines will fire up at 4.50 – certainly not something we’ve experienced on many other surf charters that often run on ‘island time’.
Then there are the Dhoni and Dingy captains who are on hand to take you from the Gurahali anchored in the channel to the surf. Not only are they always on hand to take you out whenever you want, they are also incredibly attentive. We’ve heard horror stories of people waiting up to an hour, waving their board frantically to signal they’re done with their session – it doesn’t sound THAT bad on the face of it, but consider how tired you can be after a long session, how strong the currents can be and how hot the sun can be, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Not on Gurahali.
With the swell set to peak that evening, our mid-morning arrival at our destination was somewhat disappointing… Lines of sheet glass peeled down the reef perfectly – but it was knee high. This wasn’t what we had come for…
Despite this, Jarand and I decided to jump out to test the water (pun intended) whilst the others re-capped some videos with Pepijn. In typical Maldivian fashion though, as the tide began to push, bigger sets began breaking with mechanical, wavepool-esque precision. With no other boats in the area, we decided to jump in immediately after lunch. We were blessed with chest to shoulder high waves and some the smoothest conditions we’ve seen. This allowed us to film from the roof of the Dhoni whilst Pepijn was giving the guests real-time feedback in the lineup. As the light began to fade everyone headed back to the boat, shoulders aching and faces grinning.
Surfing in the Maldives can be a fickle proposition if the tides are against you, and this is why a good surf guide is worth their weight in gold.
Take a look at the current Maldives surf forecast here.
The calm after the storm…
The following day, eager for another slice of the pie a few guys jumped out at first light before low tide. This tends to be the trickiest time regarding currents and this session was no different. The current was even visible from the Dhoni as we approached, meaning even just sitting on your board to wait for a set was out of the question. We made the call to head back to the boat and wait for the tide to turn and used the opportunity to run a much-needed stretching session in the early morning light on the sun-deck.
Just before lunch, the waves began to turn on. Intermittent rain squalls were blowing through however, ripping up the lineup in short bursts before it finally returned to it’s oil-smooth texture. There wasn’t a drop of water out of place and the waves offered a variety of sections for tubes and turns. We traded waves for 3-hours until another storm settled in for the evening, signaling the end of the session and time to get stuck into the days footage.
With empty sessions under our belt and with every drop milked out of the easing SE swell, we headed NW towards Thaa Atoll, where an 18 second groundswell was forecast to be filling in. Arriving at Kanimeedhoo just after 11am, no one could quite believe how perfect the set-up was.
On the outside, overhead walls crashed towards the uninhabited island before wrapping nearly 180 degrees to the inside break. If you could make the sucky, relatively shallow (by Maldivian standards) take-off, you were rewarded with a flawless wall peeling into the picturesque channel. When you imagine the picture-prefect image of surfing in the Maldives, this was it.
400m to the west were two more world-class waves, including the pumping left below. With just 4 other guys out at Insides, half the crew surfed here whilst the rest headed across the channel for a taste of going left for a change. After lunch, we liaised with the guys on the other boat and arranged to surf insides for the 2-4pm window while they would surf 4-6pm – Deal!
The next 2 days morphed into the stuff of surf trip dreams. Everyone was surfing to a noticeably higher standard than just a few days previous. Dmitri and Julia sat on the inside, picking off a ridiculous amount of waves right under everyone’s noses. This was perfect for them to get repetitions in on their cutback practice.
The only other goofy-foot, Ken, was struggling with some of the faster sections at first. However, with some tips from Pepijn he was making it around sections with speed to burn. Similarly, Jody was having some trouble making steeper drops on his bigger board – though he did take the prize for ‘most likely to come on a Renegade bodyboarding coaching trip’… All jokes aside, after a few days Jody was confidently taking off on bigger and steeper sections and made some impressive drops.
Elad was quietly absorbing Pepijn’s knowledge like a sponge. Every session he was gaining confidence and making visible improvements.
The Norwegian crew had the most surf experience within the group and all made huge improvements. John’s cruisy style suited the Maldivian waves perfectly, and by the end of the trip his bottom turn to snap combo was looking seriously spicy.
Jarand has had some coaching before – something that’s obvious when you see how good he surfs. Pepijn tasked Jarand with smoothing out his surfing. By the end of the trip the difference was obvious. Jarand was effortlessly linking maneuvers with minimal pumping in between, flowing smoothly from snaps and carves straight into his bottom turn.
Bard had a remarkable knack for sniffing out barrels even when there didn’t seem to be any. On several occasions he was rewarded with some serious tube-time before coming out clean. His maneuvers also became far more critical, trading on-the-shoulder cutbacks for more vertical top turns and aggressive carves.
Last but not least, Ole, used to the soft waves of Stavanger in Norway, wasn’t used to having so much time going into each maneuver. Once he’d stopped rushing, Ole was looking far more composed on the wave and was executing some impressive turns.
Heading back North…
With dropping swell for the last 3 days, we began our trip back to the uber consistent North Malé atoll. En-route we checked some lesser-known waves that aren’t often surfed at this time of year due to the unfavourable trade winds. However, with unseasonal slack winds and glassy seas, we were confident we could find Ken some elusive lefts.
The spot makes no sense when inspected on a map. It’s in the middle of a channel, in the swell shadow of another island and faces NW away from the swell. Somehow though, it manages to suck in more swell than any other waves around. Once the pushing tide had eased the current, overhead sets were bombing through – suggesting the spot could handle some serious size on its day. Ken found his left-hand runners, milking one all the way to the inside and gaining some tattoos from the reef for his efforts. Mission accomplished!
There was one more spot on our radar for the route north… One of the longest waves in the Maldives on its day, this fickle right offers steep walls for turns and the odd cover-up on the inside too. Despite the swell just being 2.5ft @ 14 seconds, head high walls greeted us on arrival. John wasn’t too happy about the pods of 50+ dolphins around us though… (he ‘claims’ a dolphin attacked him in California!). Despite reports of 20+ guys in the water the day before, the line-up was EMPTY, again. This session turned into one of the best of the trip.
Going out on a high…
Arriving back at Himmafushi, we were greeted with solid surf considering the forecast was only showing 3ft @ 9 seconds. We jumped in for the last filmed session of the trip, before heading to a local ‘clinic’ for PCR tests. After living in a COVID-free bubble and thinking about nothing but surfing for the past 9-nights, the discussion of PCR tests the next day was a shock to the system. Fortunately, the crew on Gurahali are well-versed in this by now, and the process was smooth and hassle-free.
The final dinner of traditional Maldivian food was enjoyed by all. John treated us to a compelling speech in the way that only John can. The team reminisced on the past 10-days, debating important topics such as which spot they enjoyed most, who drank the most beers, and did John actually drop in on Jody? The jury is still out…
A post-dinner award ceremony crowned the following champions… Conveniently, there were 9 categories;
Most improved male – Dimitri
Most improved female – Julia
Best combo – John
Best barrel – Bard
Most likely to do voiceovers for Renegade videos – Elad
Best reef rash – Ken
Most likely to be last on the Dhoni – Ole
First in line for a Renegade bodyboarding trip – Jody
Most likely to be found stretching on the roof at 3am – Jiffy
Icing on the cake…
The trip wasn’t over just yet… With late departures all-round, we opted for a late-checkout, allowing everyone a final chance to surf themselves silly. With a morning low tide, currents were an issue. Though after 10 days of drone piloting, I jumped out with Pepijn to enjoy empty overhead jailbreaks. The current was savage but the effort was rewarded with 150m+ rides and multiple barrel sections.
As the tide turned, the cavalry arrived, and the ‘crowd’ of 2 grew to around 25. However, there were so many waves coming through that the crowd wasn’t an issue. Bard scored ‘the wave of his life’ after I surrendered priority and called him into a screamer.. Thankfully, my good deed was repaid around an hour later and I scored my own wave of the trip in front of the whole crew, and the watchful eye of a drone. Strangely, karma then instantly swung the other way and snapped my board clean in two on the very next wave. #worthit
Back on the boat everyone agreed the trip couldn’t have ended on a better note. The progression throughout the trip had been incredible to witness and we had truly experienced surfing in the Maldives at it’s finest. The atmosphere watching the drone videos back was a giddy high. We packed our bags, swapped SD cards and paid up our bar tabs (how much was yours, Bard!?). It was time to cruise back to the airport.
A HUGE thankyou to the crew on Gurahali for providing always exceptional service and an unforgettable experience. Thank you to Pepijn for stepping in last-minute and helping us to deliver the world-class coaching we pride ourselves on. Thank you to Mother Nature for providing incredible conditions throughout the trip. Lastly, thank you to our amazing guests. You arrived as strangers and left as friends and the level of stoke and progression was inspiring to watch. We can’t wait to have you on board again in the future!