WHEN SURFING IN PARADISE BECOMES A CRIME
It’s hard to think of surfing as a ‘crime’. We live in a time where surf travel has become super accessible and surfing greats are well-respected global sporting heroes. Yet for some countries in the world, even ones that rely heavily on surf tourism, local surfers are being arrested for just that; surfing.
On an island a little larger than the size of Sydney’s Luna Park and with over 110 000 residents, it’s no surprise that Male’, the capital city of the Maldives is slowly becoming a crowded and unhappy little place. Even more so when the limited number of recreational activities to do there, like surfing, are being lawfully abolished.
Local surfers have resorted to holding a series of ‘Mind Surfing Contests;’ where surfers sit and watch the waves, commentating on megaphones exactly how they would personally surf the waves, if only each of them they were allowed.
The proposed China-Maldives Friendship Bridge that is set to connect the capital of Male’ to the airport island Hulhule’, is to be constructed directly through the only part of Male’ that offers natural access to the ocean for recreational activities. The world-class surf break, Varunula Raalhugandu (aka ‘Towns’), is at threat of extermination with the proposed bridge to run directly through the lineup. It’s no surprise that local surfers are getting their leggies in a knot over the US$210 key election pledge of President Abdulla Yameen.
One of the nation’s most successful body boarders Jaatte shares his personal fears in regards to the location of the bridge, ‘This is where I started surfing. I’ve travelled all over the Maldives and surfed at many different world-class spots. But no wave in the Maldives can compare to the waves that we have at Raalhugandu. Watching it being violated like this is the same as watching your loved one die right in front of you.’
This is Jaatte, hailing from Laamu Gan. Raalhugandu is like home to him having started surfing here. He’s one the nation’s most promising bodyboarders with a lot of potential. Here he’s charging a beast of a Padan Left (Raalhugandu) wave. Photo credit: Mohamed Shareef.
Last week a number of local Maldivian surfers were arrested for simply just surfing and for holding peaceful protests in the country’s capital. Even the Maldives Surfing Associations’ (MSA) President Ahmed Aznil better known as ‘AJ’, found himself handcuffed and jailed for five days, ‘Justice does not exist here anymore. I feel that we are being treated no better than animals.’ Another highly respected MSA member was also handcuffed for filming the police arrests on his phone.
Maldives Surfing Association’s (MSA) President Ahmed Aznil (‘AJ’) being handcuffed at the peaceful protests last week. AJ was jailed for 5 days. Photo credit: MSA’s Facebook Page.
AJ, one of the hardest chargers in the Maldives feeling right at home on a bomb at Padan (Raalhugandu). Photo Credit: Mohamed Shareef.
SURFING IS NOW ILLEGAL
The government has recently banned surfing in the area even before the project is set to commence. Large fencing resembling the likes of a prison has been constructed on land to forbid access to the Male’ residents’ one and only surf break. Three time national surfing champion Ismail Miglal (Kuda Issey) says ‘It’s a sad reality that we are faced with today. We might not be able to surf Varunula Raalhugandu ever again once the bridge is set up. This break produces a unique wave in the sense that it just doesn’t have a right or left hander, it has a multitude of waves… A surfer’s dream if you will.’
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR LOCAL SURFERS
Kuda Issey, also a local surf school owner, has already felt the effects of the development on his business with being no longer allowed to conduct surfing lessons. He is worried that ‘The Ministry haven’t produced any evidence of research (in regards to) maintaining the surf or the environment that encompasses this whole area… I’m uncertain whether I’ll be able to surf the waves I’ve been blessed with for more than two decades and future generations may never know that there was even a surf break here. It’s heartbreaking. It’s unjust.”
‘Towns’ is a training ground for many of the Maldives best surfers and body boarders. ‘Despite our victories in surf completions abroad and locally, I don’t think the government realise that surfing has brought more glory and awards to this country than any other sport’ says Kuda Issey.
This is is Ismail Miglal more commonly known as Kuda Issey. 3x National Surfing Champion, one of most experienced surf guides in the Maldives and hands down the best aerial surfer to ever come out from this little country. Photo credit: Asippe Photography.
THE MALDIVES SURFING ASSOCIATION (MSA)
The MSA hold grave concerns that sufficient Environmental Impact Assessments have not been conducted properly in regards to the proposed bridge development. The surfing body has staged peaceful protests in hope of organizing meetings with the Ministry of Housing to discuss the impact to the prestigious surf break. The MSA are demanding solid proof that thorough testing has been conducted by relevant authorities, who have sufficient surfing and ocean knowledge. The Housing Ministers suggest that there are some relevant documents, yet these are composed in Chinese.
The MSA are not opposed to the bridge itself, yet are purely concerned about the location and the disastrous environmental and social damage it will cause.
Raalhugandu on a small day.
RATS SURF BREAK DESTROYED BY MACHINERY
Last week saw the destruction of ‘Rats’ surf break, located outside the south-west harbour of Malé’. Local surfers watched on as machinery violently destroyed the ocean floor. Jaatte says ‘Rats was one of the best barrel waves in the country.’ Yet at last week’s meetings with the Deputy Ministry of Housing, Muththalib claimed that the government was not aware that Rats was even a surf break.
LETS TAKE A LOOK AT HISTORY IN AUSTRALIA
It’s important to acknowledge historical evidence in regards to development proposals, predominantly when modifying the hydrology of an area. The success of a particular development is not only measured by the physical changes made to a waterway, but by environmental, political and social consequences as well, that often affect the ‘heart-beat’ of a community.
Take for example the proposed developed at the world-class surf break of Kirra on the Gold Coast, Queensland in the 1970’s. Australian World Champion surfer Wayne Rabbit Bartholomew expresses his loss on his world-class home break in his book ‘Busting Down The Door’,
– WAYNE RABBIT BARTHOLOMEW, WORLD SURFING CHAMPION 1978.
‘Something died, something actually died in the town when the groyne went in and Kirra stopped breaking.’ He goes on to discuss the social implications ‘And of course that set the scene for all of the bad shit, when the hard drug dealers moved in a few years later.’
‘We didn’t know…how it would affect the surf… When the constructions began it was a pretty sad time. In societies eyes we were just the bums and no-one would care about how important this Point was to us…Great surf spots are legitimate natural wonders of the world…The council was desperate to stop the beach erosion…But this quick fix for Coolangatta Beach only alienated the surfers who were the core of the beach culture and the people never came back. The whole exercise seemed to me a glaring illustration of one man trying to tamper with the forces of nature.’
The above is quoted from the Australian World Champion’s autobiography with Tim Baker, ‘Busting Down The Door.’
We only have to look at the ‘Superbank’, Australia’s most densely populated surfing wave, running from Snapper Rocks through to Coolangatta. Could you imagine if Kirra still existed as it did back in its untouched form of the seventies, and even how more remarkable the ‘Superbank’ could really be?!
SOCIAL EFFECTS OF DESTROYING ENVIRONMENTAL ASSETS
One man’s key election promise, opposed to millions of years of archeological existence. Our lifetimes are short yet we humans have the ability to stuff everything up in the space of a few short years.
Relentlessly destroying significant natural assets and gifts from God like the word class surf break Varunula Raalhugandu will only deliver a whole new set of social, environmental and political implications that the Maldivian Ministry of Housing may not have planned for. These consequences will immediately effect every single one of those 110 000+ people that live on the tiny island of Male’, when drugs, crime, mental health issues and incidence of inactive lifestyles and lifestyle related diseases come into play, plus of course the related costs. Will Male’ be as ‘safe’ as it is now in 2016? That will have to wait and see…
‘This wave, this spot in Male’ is responsible for so many kids who were useless on the roads of Male’. I was one of those useless kids until I started surfing… it showed me how I can build my life!’ says passionate body boarder Teddie. Local surfers only want to be able to escape to the lineup and surf their home break in the beautiful Maldivian waters.
The local surfers from Thulusdhoo Island, home of the popular wave ‘Cokes’ showing their support. Photo Credit: Maldives Association Facebook Page.
WHO DESTROYS THEIR OWN ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESTS?!
Around the tiny island nation the government has also been busy constructing airport runways and artificial beaches through popular surfing zones. Waves at Haa Dhaalu Atoll Kulhudhuffushi and Baa Atoll Dharavandhoo have been destroyed. Last year saw the incredibly popular breaks of Honkeys and Sultans come under threat in the North Male’ Atoll. The ever consistent and fast right-hander wave ‘Jails’ at Kaafu Atoll Himmafushi is currently hot at the centre of land reclamation discussions.
THE LEGACY – SPREADING THE WORD
The world-class wave Raalhugandu holds the longest history of modern surfing in the country. Stopping irreparable damage to the wave proves to remain high on the MSA’s agenda. ‘We deny the people living in this nation now and in the future a great joy. We may lose a piece of our heritage if this wave becomes just a memory’ says Kuda Issey. It’s doubtful that the slogan behind the Male’ bridge protests, ‘United We Stand To Save Our Waves’ will cease to be yo-yoed around on social media feeds anytime soon.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
LIKE + SHARE THE MALDIVES SURFING ASSOCIATION’S FACEBOOK PAGE.
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HASHTAG SURFING PICTURES #SAVEOURWAVES #UNITEDWESTAND