The Maldives surfing community is facing a disaster of epic proportions after a bridge construction threatens to destroy up to four of the region’s world-class waves.

As a result, surfers and government authorities are locking horns over the development plans with no clear resolution in sight. Protests are taking place, and some surfers and bodyboarders have been arrested an held in jail.

Basically, things are not looking good for a small country which relies heavily on surf tourism.

Central Coast bodyboarder Dave Castle, who has close ties to the Maldives Bodyboarding Association (MBBA), gave us an insight into the situation unfolding at the once peaceful island nation.

Ali Khushruwan by Surfing Raalhugandu
Photo: Maldives local Ali Khushruwan surfing at Raalhugandu, one of the breaks under threat by the construction.

Words by Dave Castle

What would you do if one day you rocked up to your local surf spot only to be greeted by construction crews getting ready to rip up the patch of reef and build a bridge through the wave you have dedicated your life to? 

This is the sight that greeted the locals of Raalhugandu (commonly known as Towns) located on the East coast of Male’, the capital of The Maldives. Raalhugandu is a world class wave and the epicentre of Maldivian bodyboarding and surfing. It is the home break of most of the Maldivian pro bodyboarders including Ali Khushruwan, Ali Javed and Teddie Teddie. This is the spot where most of the kids in the Maldives learnt how to ride waves, whether it be on a boog or a stick.

To understand how important this wave is for the surfers of Malé, you need to understand a little bit about Maldivian geography. The Maldives is made up over eleven hundred islands which span for nearly a thousand kilometres. Most of these islands are either uninhabited or have only a few locals but Malé is different. It is home to over 150,000 people or nearly half of the country’s population. What you also need to know is that it is a tiny island. It is only about 3km wide and 2km from top to bottom and you can walk around the island in a few hours.  Being so densely populated, there is not much to do as pretty much all of the available land is filled with an apartment block or an office building.

Raalhugandu by Mohamed Ahsan
Photo: Empty perfection at Raalhugandu by Mohamed Ahsan

This is why Raalhugandu is so important. It’s a break made up of three peaks, a long left barrel, an A-frame in the middle of the beach and a heavy right which all break over an urchin covered reef. Surfed since the 70’s, and being one of only two surf spots on the island (the other being “Rats”, a heavy left that can only be surfed on a large swell by experts, which is also being affected by government developments but I will go into that after), means that Malé locals can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and do what they love. There are approximately 200 bodyboarders and 150 surfers that regularly surf the place. The beach also gives the youth of Malé something to do. As Teddie Teddie, one of The Maldives best bodyboarders said “Raalhugandu is so important, It changed my life. I used to be one of the useless kids on the street, just like many other Maldivian kids, and then I started bodyboarding. This was an eye opener for me. It gave me direction and showed me how I could build my life.”

The Bridge

bridge by Antony Colas
Image: Bridge proposal by Antony Colas

There had been rumblings for a while that a bridge would be built to link up Malé to the airport on the neighbouring island of Hulhule. It was one of the promises that Abdulla Yameen used in his successful presidential campaign in 2013. Three sites for the bridge were proposed. One of these included proposals had the bridge cutting right through Raalhugandu. “The bridge is something that the public wants” says the President of the Maldives Bodyboard Association Abdulla Areef, “we aren’t against the bridge” he adds. “The bridge will be very useful for the city and The Maldives but Raalhugandu is also important. It is important for bodyboarding and surfing. It is a place where both young and old can enjoy the ocean and to participate in sport to keep healthy and active. Three plans were brought forward and only one of those plans will affect the waves. What we want is to save the waves, we want the government to consider the other two options”.

In December 2015 members from MBBA (Maldives Bodyboarding Association) and MSA (Maldives Surfing Association) met with government representatives. They were informed that the government had decided to build the bridge through the popular surf spot. The government representatives assured the both the MBBA and MSA that an environmental assessment report had been conducted and that the construction of the bridge would not affect the waves. When the MBBA and MSA asked to see copies of the report they were told that it would be supplied to them. This report never came but the construction crews did.

the start of the bridge by Sand Saeed
Image: the start of the bridge by Sand Saeed

On Sunday 28th February 2016, three locals including bodyboarder Ali Khushruwan and champion surfers Iboo and Mishoo decided to hit the waves. Not long after paddling out, they were arrested for surfing in a restricted area and spent the night in jail. Representatives from MSA commented that “It was not publicly announced or conveyed to anyone within our surfing community that surfing was not going to be allowed in the area during the construction process”. The next day bodyboarders and surfers of Malé united. Feeling as though the place they cherished was being ripped away from them, they decided to conduct a peaceful demonstration. They drew up placards, printed up shirts and got onto social media to spread the word about what was happening to Raalhugandu.  During the demonstration a group of locals decided to ignore the ban and paddled out again at Raalhugandu which ended up in more arrests. At the time of writing, MSA president, AhmedAJAznil was still being detained by authorities.

Ahmed AJ Aznil jailed By MSA
Image: Ahmed AJ Aznil jailed. Photo by MSA

Rats-A Double Whammy

There is another wave on Malé but as mentioned before, this wave is not for everyone. “Rats” is a fast, heavy left hander that unloads over a shallow coral reef. It is situated on the south western corner of Male’ and it looks as though it may also be gone soon. At that end of the island, the government are in the process of building a harbour. In order to do this they are using tetrapods to reclaim the land. Over time, the government have been moving the tetrapods further out to sea. The next move will see the pods sitting on top of the reef where Rats breaks. This will result in a world class wave being lost in the name of progress.

Rats Ali Khushruwan by Nahshal Nahu Nahu Nasir
Ali Khushruwan on a grinder at Rats by Nahshal Nahu Nahu Nasir

Further Implications

If Raalhugandu is lost, it will create a domino effect for surfing and surf tourism in The Maldives. This industry is so important for the economy of the country. As the vast majority of bodyboarders and surfers in country come from the capital, with many of them making a living in the surf season as surf guides and boat drivers for visiting surfers, killing the waves there will be disastrous for the industry. With no waves on Malé, it will mean that there will be no next generation of bodyboarders and surfers. With no next generation, it means no guides, no surf instructors and no one to fight for other surf spots in the future if developers decide to do the same thing elsewhere.

it is not politics by Sand Saeed
Above: It is not politics. Photo by Sand Saeed

So where to now?

It looks as though the government are digging their heels in and will continue with the proposed bridge. The bodyboarding and surfing communities of the Maldives have planned further demonstrations and have indicated they will do all they can to stop the bridge ruining their waves. The Maldives Surfing Association has issued a statement about their stance on the matter- “These waves are a national heritage. The surf breaks in Maldives are some of the best in the world. By right, they are natural resources that should be protected under Maldivian law.”

Ali Javed by Surfing Raalhugandu
Photo: Ali Javed by Surfing Raalhugandu

“Once again, we stress the point, the surfers in Malé are NOT TRYING TO STOP THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE BRIDGE. They are concerned about the possible destruction of their surf break. They are asking the government to work with them to find a way to ensure the sustainability of surfing at Raalhugandu. It has the longest history of surfing in the country. Let us not destroy it.”

What you can do to help-  

For further information and up to date info- like the facebook pages-

Save our Waves –https://www.facebook.com/Raalhuhimaayaiykurey/

Maldives Bodyboard Association –https://www.facebook.com/MBBAmv/?fref=ts

Maldives Surfing Association-

 https://www.facebook.com/Maldives-Surfing-Association-MSA-447016172067945/?fref=ts

And follow on Instagram
#‎saveourwaves

 

Final Word- 

“Raalhugandu is the best spot in the Maldives. Hands down. Anyone that surfs here can handle any wave the Maldives has up for offer. Now they’re building a bridge right through the spot. Detaining anyone who goes for a surf because it’s not allowed apparently. I don’t know how this is going to work out, and frankly speaking, the future for surfing at this spot looks bleak.” Ali Javed, Pro Bodyboarder