Travel

Blue crush

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BLUE. After a month discovering the wonders of the Maldives, this one word stuck in my mind more than any other.

Living and working aboard a surfing charter boat as the onboard photographer for Australia's leading surf adventure specialist, World Surfaris, I was literally thrown in the deep end of this Indian Ocean paradise, tasked with capturing the Kodak moments on behalf of the surf-hungry guests who had travelled from all corners of the globe to share in an adventure of a lifetime.

The Maldives is a fascinating place, both geographically and culturally.

The people are believed to have originated mostly from southern India and Sri Lanka, yet their language is unique.

Although Hinduism and later Buddhism were once practised, Islam has been their religion since the 12th century and it is actually illegal for a non-Muslim to become a citizen.

Coming from a culture where bikinis are the norm, I found unusual the sight of local women getting around in a tropical paradise dressed from head to toe and even swimming in their customary dress.

My home for the duration was the Handhu Falhi: a 24m (78ft) safari boat with six full-time local crew. She was rebuilt in 2005 and accommodates 10 guests in air-conditioned comfort.

Aside from the many exclusive resorts that are dotted throughout the 26 atolls of the island nation, safari boats are the most common and, certainly in my opinion, the best way to holiday in the Maldives.

The islands, though picturesque, are basically all the same - small, flat and covered in coconut palms. From the water, you can enjoy the view of many islands from your shaded deck and the view never gets boring.

Besides, the water is where all the action is.

Diving is a big tourist drawcard, but surfing is my thing and every surfer I have ever spoken to gets glassy-eyed and dreamy as soon as you mention the Maldives.

Most Aussie surfers who have travelled to get waves have been to Indonesia, but far fewer can claim to have experienced the beauty of the Maldives.

It is a little harder to get there, and as such, costs a bit more, but the reward is the lack of crowds and the natural, unspoilt beauty.

Our time was spent in the Gaafu Dhaalu atoll to the south, which picks up the southerly swells that travel the vast open expanse of the Indian Ocean.

The reef breaks that peel along the edge of the many island channels, although not of the quality of some of the famous Indonesian waves, are consistently good with a variety of breaks to test any level of surfer.

We lived as nomads of the sea, following the waves and berthing in a different location every night.

The crew would be up and on the move before dawn so that by first light, we were usually parked beside the break that would be our playground for the morning.

When hunger got the better of us, a chef-prepared feast would be on hand to refuel us before our next session in the waves.

At day's end, we would gather, red-eyed and weary, on the deck and sip on a couple of Tiger beers as the sun sank over the sea or behind a postcard-perfect island.

Occasionally, we visited a deserted island to pick coconuts or accompanied the crew to local islands.

It is quite peculiar that, although tourism is the biggest industry in the Maldives, outsiders are not catered for outside the resort islands and Male.

The plus is, you get to experience their culture as it is, minus the hawkers.

As a photographer, my eye was caught by the natural wonders, so the world beneath the insanely blue sea is where I kept returning to focus my lens.

With the waters being so clear, I discovered a new view of the waves and surfers that has never been available to me before.

From all reports, nowhere in Indonesia compares.

The Maldives is home to more than 2000 species of fish. Manta and eagle rays are common, as are hawksbill and green sea turtles.

Then there are the whale sharks.

The mystical giants are revered by the Maldivians, and our boat was lucky enough to be visited late one night by a 4.5 metre-long shark that decided to feed on krill under our spotlight. Shy at first, the gentle creature spent more than four hours in our company, unfazed by the gobsmacked guests who entered the water with snorkel gear to get a closer look.

It was without a doubt one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced and was the icing on the cake of the trip of a lifetime.

Most Aussie surfers who have travelled to get waves have been to Indonesia, but far fewer can claim to have experienced the beauty of the Maldives.

>> Read more travel stories.

Topics:  maldives, sri lanka, travel, travelling


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