Imagine you’re sitting in the lineup at the Point, forced to watch flawless lines marching down Supertubes’ famous shelf, with only wealthy surfers allowed to surf it? It’d be off-limits to you because you couldn’t afford to stay at the massive exclusive resort recently set-up at Pepper St.
Sounds like a far fetched nightmare, right? But this may well be the case for local Maldivian surfers at two of their most prized waves if a new proposal put forward by Singaporean investment company Telos Investments goes through.
Telos Investments wants to develop a ’boutique’ surf resort on Thanburudhoo island, home to two of North Malé’s best waves – Sultans and Honkies. If this proposal gets approved – which is looking highly likely according to long-time local surfer Ahmed Nasru (Mickey), who claims the process smacks of underhanded dealings – then the number of quality spots in the area which are open to locals will halve. This will leave only Jailbreaks (on Himmafushi island) and Cokes (on Thulusdhoo island) as the last quality reef passes in the area without exclusive rights and open to local surfers.
Privatization of surf spots is nothing new. For decades now entrepreneurs and even companies have been buying up land adjacent to quality surf breaks from South America to North Sumatra, claiming rights to the breaks in front of their resorts, and making them exclusive to guests.
Local surfers from the North Malé atolls of the Maldives are very familiar with this process. Some of their finest surf breaks – like Lohifushi and Pasta Point for example – have been deemed off-limits for many years after resorts were built on the islands hosting these waves. It’s something the local surfers have learned to live with, because they always had a few other quality spots in the area to fall back on.
If the Telos Investment proposal goes through, that will all change as their last few quality spots are gobbled up by privatization.
And then of course there is the ethical question: it’s becoming increasingly clear that privatization not only infringes on local surfers’ rights to freely access the reefs and islands they’ve inhabited and lived off for centuries. It also ensures any visiting surfers who can’t afford to pay the prices of these ’boutique’ resorts will instead be forced to sit shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for a set at the last two quality spots in North Malé. The knock-on effect could even lead to surf tour operations going out of business – why go on a surf trip when you’re not allowed to surf half the waves? The end result would mean locals not only lose out on waves, but for those employed by, or operating their own surf tour business, their very livelihood could be threatened.
In a bid to be ‘fair’, the July 2011 proposal submitted by Telos Investments to develop the 3.6 hectare Thanburudhoo island states: “The resort will open its doors to Maldivian surfers for a special surfing session twice per month”.
It then goes on to state that, “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.”
It might sound like a fair deal to the authorities, but it’s like a slap in the face for the local Maldivian surfers, which is why they’re looking to raise awareness about the proposal, and come to a more agreeable conclusion.
While this may not affect most of us directly, many readers will have experienced the perfection, quality and beauty of the North Malé atolls first-hand, and would be able to relate to the local Maldivian surfers’ plight.
Anyone interested in lending their voice to the opposition of further restrictions to North Malé’s quality breaks, can contact Ahmed ‘Mickey’ Nasru, a local Maldivian surfer who is hoping to keep the Maldives surfing dream alive for the locals of North Malé.
Ahmed Nasru (Mickey) – firstname.lastname@example.org