Encounters with marine life add to paradise feel of ultimate surf snap
Josh McCarty mixes it with the professionals – both surfers and photographers – in the Maldives.
Just imagine a picture-perfect holiday… blue skies, white sandy beaches, palm tree-coated island chains. When you go on holiday with professional surfers, a couple of thoughts come to mind; one being will I be able to surf the large death-defying waves that break across razor-sharp coral reefs; the other, will I survive to tell the tale?
The unique Picstars Oneill Surfboat Phototrip brought together pro surfers, professional photographers, and regular surfing Joes to share the holiday of a lifetime, in search of the ultimate surf snap in the Maldives. The brainchild of pro surfer and O'Neill team rider Celine Gehret, the trip is recommended for confident intermediate to advanced surfers. This is advice well heeded bearing in mind the Maldivian Southern Male atoll offering empty waves that range from a shallow shoulder high to almighty three times overhead double-decker bus equivalents.
Following a night gently rocked to sleep by the swell of a sheltered bay inside the luxurious 85ft Blue Shark motor yacht, the average day starts early at 5.30am with coffee and bananas. Everyone then boards the Doney, a 35ft support boat racked out to carry the 40 plus surfboards, to travel to the best spots for a sunrise 6am surf. This may not sound relaxing to everyone but sat in board shorts in 30C to greet the sun at an empty impressive world class surf break, soon wins you over.
Human nature decrees a toe-dip before jumping in, but the 28C bathwater that wraps in from the Indian Ocean is incredible even at stupid o'clock in the morning.
The basic premise of surfing reefs is that the consistent shape of the reef provides consistent waves that surpass beaches in quality. As you stroke for your first wave, your new-found comrades calling you in, snap, snap, snap – no not the marine life but the photographer has caught the moment, the wave walls up like liquid glass and your face says it all – we've arrived!
Having travelled extensively, I like to feel I am hardened to the holiday rose-tinted glaze that catches many people, but as you dive under the water and paddle the last few metres to the breaking waves, you realise the place is teeming with marine life and really is a paradise.
If you like lazy holidays you get an opportunity to rest after three hours of surfing as it's back to the boat for a healthy breakfast, and a well-earned snooze on the sun deck. With longer surfs in the morning and evening, guests then opt in and out for surf or other expeditions either side of lunch.
Everyday you are snorkelling with incredible species like elegant Manata Rays that have a 6ft wingspan gliding about oblivious to us tiny people. If you head towards the breaking surf you are sure to stumble across loggerhead turtles bumbling about. It really makes you feel connected to nature – yet you always have to be aware when surfing as occasionally these mobile boulders pop out of the face of a wave – a guaranteed board breaker.
The sudden realisation you have three fins circling just the length of a car away while you sit eager for the next wave, is somewhat terrifying the first time, but the common black and white tip reef sharks offer no threat to people, and are normally so scared they keep their distance.
No matter how good a pro surfer Celine is, you can bet when a pod of 20 dolphins arrive they trump any human with their displays of surfing. These humbling moments will no doubt provide a lifetime of fond memories, are regular occurrences in the southern male atoll and provide insight into why this location is one of the most desirable the world over.
The Picstars' photographers are on hand for every session, shooting from a small flat-bottom boat and in the water alike, which is why when the perfect wave or a pod of dolphins rear up Facebook, Twitter, the world empathise with your joy and envy.
If you were not water-fit before you went on this trip, I can assure you by the end of it, the six-nine hours surfing a day pays off. A diet of fresh line-caught fish keeps the aches at bay and the mind and body focussed on the swell. For the inherent waterman or woman, paddleboarding is a great way to explore the atoll while enhancing your core plus surfing.
If desperate for a memento you will come home with a surfing war wound, in my case three cracked ribs; for the pro surfers nothing!
Although primarily a surfing experience, this trip threw up an awareness of the ocean and marine life that few other holidays could match.