Surf trip aux Dhivehi Raa'jeyge Jumhooriyya

Anchored in the middle of winter in the Landes, it was necessary to restore the balm to our hearts, by immersing ourselves in the tropical photos of our last boat trip to the Maldives.

Postponed twice because of the pandemic (oh? Really!?), we are finally ready to arrive in Malé with a whole bunch of happy surfers from the 4 corners of the globe: France, Switzerland, Mexico, Senegal and Hawaii.

A few adventures later, we are ready to surf our first waves. The level is high, with the presence of Young guns accompanying the elders ;). We were able to meet Pua Desoto (daughter of Hawaiian longboard champion Duane), the Franco-Swiss Fantin Habashi and the aerial Senegalese Cherif Fall.

2 generations of pro surfers meet in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean: the Hawaiian Duane Desoto (longboard champion of the 90s), the Senegalese Oumar Seye (first pro surfer from Senegal). Nearly 25 years separate the 2 generations but we find in all the same energy and the same desire to score the Maldivian bombs. Given the forecasts, we quickly head south, to discover spots with fewer people and waves world class. Our first surf at Tucky Joe's puts everyone in agreement with a magnificent left, flush with the reef.

After 1 night of navigation, we discovered the Muli F-One wave. Only one other boat is present, the wave is for us. The sessions are endless, the waves tubular, the show of young and old is crazy. We're stuffing ourselves! All this immortalized by photographer Hugo Boulenger for the Smile Wave foundation.

On the way back we encountered a good old tropical storm which forced us to stay lying down in our cabin to avoid feeding the fish with our lunch... We finished this long crossing on the wave of Foxies. Alone...

As I write these few lines, multiple memories keep coming to mind. The meeting with the nurse sharks ("go ahead! Jump first!"), the jumps from the roof of the boat, the evenings discussing each other's lives,... This trip allowed us to share moments of intergenerational life between enthusiasts, and some good laughs (return to Madame Chipiron's spicy bet).

Adelin - Smile Wave Foundation - Chipiron Surfboards Maldives

Unfortunately, beyond this beautiful postcard, the human and environmental question remains essential: waste management from hotel complexes and numerous boats, questions about respect for human and women's rights, ... After having discussed with our surf guide Mishu, he introduced us to Aya Naseem, one of the few female surfers in the Maldives.

Having female representation at Nationals legitimizes the role of women in surfing and I can't wait to see how many girls will participate next year.

Hello Aya, can you introduce yourself in a few words.

My name is Aya Naseem, I am 35 years old and I am a marine biologist in the Maldives. I work for Maldive Coral Institute, for the preservation of coral reefs by promoting reasonable and sustainable development.

What is daily life like in the Maldives?

I think the quality of life in the Maldives depends a lot on its political status at any given time. We have been through many troubles, even in our lifetime, and in times of instability, even daily life can seem dangerous. At such times, religious extremists gain more power and life seems more oppressed, especially for women.

But we are currently in a more stable period than we have had in a while, and I would say life is good!

When did you start surfing?

I started surfing when I was around 15, there were only a handful of local girls like Saazu and Hiya at the time. I used to go with my good friend Immi, and we were usually the only girls in the water at the time. There was a stigma attached to surfing then, it wasn't considered a respectable sport, let alone for women.

And today, is it easier for Maldivian women to take up surfing?

Surfing has come a long way in the Maldives over the past decade. When I first went surfing, there were no longboards or soft/foam boards. The only surfboards we had were shortboards given to people by tourists, and by the time they had made the rounds and ended up in our hands, they were generally in poor condition and that's not easy. to learn about it!
In recent years, thanks to people like Kuda Issey who started the Raalhu Edhuru program and school, which I also volunteer at, and the support of sponsors such as Seasports, surfing has become much more accessible to girls across the country than before. There are now a few surf schools and more opportunities for girls to take surf lessons, especially in and near the capital Malé.

The Maldives Surfing Association has regularly organized surfing competitions since its establishment in 2000, and last year (2021) it included a women's category for the national competition for the first time. 4 girls participated, Saazu, Naha, Rishtha and myself, and although I came first, it was definitely a win for all of us girls - Having female representation in our nationals definitely helps legitimize the role women in surfing, and I can't wait to see how many girls participate next year. How did your family react when they found out you surfed?

My father was initially worried about it, I think mostly because of the perceptions and also the dangers, and Malé is a small place where people talk. My mother has a very adventurous spirit and always supports my adventure despite all her worries - so when I started surfing she used to take me out early in the morning before my father went to work - Thanks Mum!

Have you ever had the chance to travel abroad to surf?

Yes, I was lucky enough to have surfed a lot in Sri Lanka when I lived there for a few years, and I also took a really fun (and freezing!) surf trip to Morocco with one of my best friends ,Natasha. Apart from that I surfed in Bali and a bit in Australia too when I was at university. Today, how can young girls get started with surfing?

Starting a girls' surf club is something Saazu and I have talked about a lot. After the girls category was announced about a month before the nationals, she called me and offered to organize a few sessions with girls, so we could help them prepare for the upcoming competition. They could participate or simply have fun while surfing. 25 girls came for the first session. It was a great success. We would soon like to create a more structured surf club to help grow women's surfing in the Maldives, which has been seriously underdeveloped all these years, in a country with world class waves. You work to preserve the marine environment in the Maldives. What are your missions?

Corals are the basis of all life in the Maldives. They give us food, livelihood, protection, and our islands would not exist without them. They also shape all the waves we ride. It is devastating to see the destruction of coral reefs and surf spots in many unsustainable development projects across the country (Check @saveourwaves for more information) . We've already lost quite a few surf spots, and some that aren't completely destroyed have been altered to the point where they'll never be the same wave again. At a time when climate change poses immense threats to coral reefs and extreme weather events and rough seas are increasingly common, I hope we can find and adopt better ways to develop our islands without destroying our environment. Pathways aligned with nature and its processes, which will allow us to increase the survival of our islands and our inhabitants. And in relation to tourism, what can be done?

Today, tourism is essential for our country. Surfing represents many jobs. But it would be important to regulate it. The presence of numerous boats on the most famous spots is devastating for the reef. We should be able to work with travel companies to help them implement waste management, for example. There is a lot to do.

Are you happy to see so many people on your spots?

Of course I believe the waves are meant to be free and everyone should be able to surf them. That said, we all love an empty line-up!
One thing that I cannot accept is the privatization of surf spots. Some islands where we used to surf freely were unofficially privatized after the island developed as a resort. Besides being a bad principle (in my opinion), this also leaves fewer spots to surf and ends up overcrowding the remaining spots. Last year we went surfing at one of these resorts in an act of protest - #freeourwaves

The privatization of surf spots is a principle that I do not accept. Some islands where we used to surf freely were unofficially privatized after the island developed as a resort. #freeourwaves

I would also like to highlight some of the inspiring Maldivian female surfers. Naa, Azoo Ahmed and Saazu are currently working on initiatives to raise awareness about environmental issues in the Maldives, raising their voices against the destruction of ecosystems, promoting sustainable living. Most importantly, these women allow more girls to surf and they inspire me as a Maldives surfer.