On Tour: The Maldives: Aussie boat trash goes “tropo” in the Indian.

“Where your friend?” asked the Malaysian security guard. Rudely awakened from an alcohol-induced nap with clouds in my head darkening any idea of what the heck was going on, I gazed back at him with a blank stare. He then pointed to the bathroom and said, “You go there!”

“Okay, okay, no problem,” I mumbled.

After a quick walk through the men’s room, I didn’t see anything—I still had no idea what he was trying to get across to me—and turned around to walk out. Not more than ten seconds later, Timmy Reyes stumbled out the door behind me.

What started out as an extended layover and an innocent sushi lunch in the Singapore airport with Timmy, Darrell Goodrum, Brett Simpson, and me had now become a drunken mess. Four days short of turning 21, Timmy decided that a couple Asahis with lunch wasn’t enough—he challenged everyone at the table to help him build an Asahi-can pyramid, and there we were.

Still dazed and half asleep, I thought to myself, “Holy shit, we just left a SARS-infected airport in Taipei, we’re in Singapore, Timmy’s surrounded by his own puke, Brett’s laying next to it, and our plane’s boarding.”

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I wasn’t even supposed to be traveling with these guys. In fact, the crew I was to meet up with saw us and just kept walking. My real travel partners—Australians Heath “Nutty” Walker, Jarrad Howse, Kai Otten, Shannon Pollard, and Damon “Stamos” Nichols—were veterans of situations like this. They knew what they had to do—ignore us. Miraculously, nobody was left behind, and we made our plane safely.

After a four-hour flight, we made it to Male (pronounced: Ma-lee), the capital of the Maldives, where we literally jumped from the terminal on to the boat, called the Gulfaam, that was to be our home for the next two weeks. Because we had a late-night arrival, we had a hard time figuring out exactly where we were—it was just some dark harbor. The boat was fairly big—around 60 feet—with a traditional Malaysian appearance and steamy cabins for each of us.

Hung over from their airport drink-a-thon, Timmy, Darrel, and Brett still had to jump on a ferry to the Lohifushi resort that was the site of the O’Neill Deep Blue Ocean Pro—a five-star World Qualifying Series (WQS) event. Approximately 200 other surfers were also staying there for the contest. Not only did we travel halfway around the world for the contest but also to get some photos.

If there’s one problem with the Maldives, it’s how the surf can be really inconsistent. All the surfers in the contest found themselves stuck at the resort with everybody else. Ferries went to other breaks, but they only went at certain times—at least we had the mobility of the boat when we wanted.

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Last year, the contest stayed small until the last few days. This year, on one of our first days there, the “all-knowing” contest director said he had checked the charts and told us it was gonna be flat the rest of the time—he was wrong. We consistently caught head-high surf at a good variety of spots.

Unlike other surf destinations, the Maldives have a good mixture of left and right reef breaks. Basically, the boat remained parked all day in a channel between two breaks on two separate atolls. Relatively flat reefs and 80-degree aqua-blue water made it feel like our boat was parked in a swimming pool. In fact, nothing’s waiting to bite you and the waves won’t kill you—a surfing playground.

The Maldives are a chain of 26 major atolls (500 miles long) in the Indian Ocean that receive swells from the Roaring 40s—the storm track above Antarctica that moves east and constantly sends incredible swells north.

According to locals, the Southern atolls receive the most swell, while Lohifushi—in the north—and the others around it get leftovers. A majority of the atolls resemble the island on the opening of the TV show Gilligan’s Island because of their small size. “Jun-Jula,” or June through July,s the monsoon season and the time during which the contest is held. It’s not uncommon for a small storm to appear out of nowhere in less than an hour and batter you with rain. Everyone scatters to batten down the hatches for a bigger storm.

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Locals say August and September can be the most consistent for waves. And when the contest isn’t in town, you can find a left or right to yourself at eleven primary breaks—Chickens, Cokes, Lohi’s (site of the contest), Ninja’s, Pasta Point, Sultan’s, Honky’s, Jail’s, Tombstone’s, Airport Lefts, and the Male town break.

Male is the only atoll in the Maldives that’s actually been modernized. It’s a funny-looking city with narrow, colorful buildings. It’s the Legoland of the Indian Ocean. The streets are extra narrow, the fish market bustles, ships litter the harbor—there’s even a professional Maldivian soccer league made of six teams. Because it’s a strict Muslim society, it’s a thoroughly modern city minus any vices such as drinking or strip clubs—at all.

It’s not uncommon to be relaxing on the boat and hear the calls for prayer five times a day on any of the islands with towns.

One day, after paying our fees for the boat at the main office in Male, I turned to our guide Iba and said, “Is it possible to take me to the mosque so I can take photos?” Without hesitating, Iba turned his head toward the street, pointed at it, and said, “Just go down that street. I’ll get in trouble for showing you around.” The Maldives are a Sunni (branch of) Muslim country just like Iraq—we just so happened to be at war with Iraq at the same time. It’s not like he’ll get in any real trouble or anything, but Iba grew up in Male, knows practically everyone, and you can’t blame him for not wanting to be seen dragging an eyesore they call an American around town.

Our boat crew consisted of four Maldivians (including Iba) and one Sri Lankan—a cook who really enjoyed burning our lips off with some of his “mild” curry. The people there aren’t just cool, they’re gracious, and they are always laughing.

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Surprisingly, the filthy Australian men on our boat didn’t deter a boat crew who had to clean up after the tornado often left behind. Chronic masturbation, filthy toilets, and messy dinner tables—God (or Allah) knows the Maldivians had seen other crews in the past do strange things, but our crew must have taken the cake. They remained patient with us—even when we tried to entice them to get the dingy closer to the breaks for photos. While the entire contest swarmed Lohifushi, we enjoyed Maldivian hospitality on the boat.

It’s better that way. At the resort, competitive rivals were enduring life on a small island together. It didn’t matter what comforts the island had—they were stuck there. On the boat, the scenery constantly changed. The only competition was the diving going off the roof of the boat. Cards were played, stories were told, and best of all, Aussie Shannon Pollard showed off his “sucky fart” method (sucks in air and lets it back out)—definitely the highlight of any evening.

The days don’t get much easier. Surf, breakfast, surf, lunch, nap, surf, diving competition, dinner, beers, stories, beddie-bye—life can be that good.

The boat’s amenities were covered by a flat fee—no divvying up the check at the end of the night. Back on the island, Mike Losness paid 180 dollars for missing the first two of his daily SARS checks. He was one of the randomly selected surfers forced by the resort to undergo daily testing. Fresh into the Male airport he was informed of his misfortune. He had to visit the resort doctor every day at nine o’clock in the morning for testing.

For us, beers were a dollar. On the island you never knew what might show up on your bill. Did one surfer hold a grudge against another? No problem. All anyone had to do was charge beers to their rival’s room. Three bucks a pop adds up real quick in the tropics. Ask Bruce Irons, who was the unlucky recipient of a bill courtesy of some Brazilians and never found out exactly which ones.

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What’s even nuttier about this whole scene is that there are other vacationing surfers from random parts of the world, and the Aussies couldn’t stand them. The Australians were too easily disturbed at the sight of twenty Speedo-clad Israelis jumping off another boat—they hassled the boys for waves and lacked any proper knowledge of surf etiquette. It’s hard not to feel sorry for all the tourists who paid tons of money, only to have to battle some of the world’s best surfers for waves they may not ever see again in their lives. It’s also not hard to feel sorry for the families who witnessed the debauchery the tour unleashes everywhere it goes, especially on an island filled with pro surfers.

One day, while watching the contest, a scream came from somewhere behind us, “Augh, aughhhhhhhhh!” I was the only one to quickly turn around and look—others ignored the commotion as if nothing was going on. “Yeah, aughhhhhhhhhhhhh, yeah, perfect ten!” Finally I looked behind and up to see a long-haired Brazilian with headphones on—screaming in a tower above the contest as he got ready for his heat. Looking back around, none of the other surfers seemed to care.

On the WQS this phenomena isn’t unusual. It’s the funniest thing you’ll ever see. That’s how Brazilians get ready for heats, and it always seems to carry over into the water as well. If a score is given by the judges and the Brazilians don’t like it, all hell breaks loose.

The Maldives contest was where Victor Ribas had his famous rock-throwing incident two years ago. He got upset when he lost, and so started bombarding the judges with rocks. Ribas was “going tropo”—a saying the Australians like to use when you’re stuck on a tropical island or boat and you start to lose your mind. You’d think, “Yeah, it’s a tropical island with beautiful, warm water,” but these guys couldn’t take it. For many, it wasn’t a vacation—it hadn’t been since they were teenagers first joining the tour. No girls, clubs, expensive adult beverages, and the same food over and over—”going tropo” became a more sinister phrase to me now.

Against three Brazilians, Trent Munro eventually won the contest. His Australian mates sat in dingies, cheered him on, and had beers waiting for him in the lineup once the last horn blasted. Munro drank a few, made his speeches, talked to reporters, and everyone went their separate ways.

That night, as everyone boarded the same plane back to Singapore, there seemed to be a relieved look on the competitors’ faces as if it were all over. However, the WQS works in weird ways—next stop, South Africa. The same 200 surfers increase to 300, and “going tropo” simply turns into going mad in Durban. The tour’s the show, and we witnessed it from a safe distance—on a boat.

 

 

Irons, who was the unlucky recipient of a bill courtesy of some Brazilians and never found out exactly which ones.

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What’s even nuttier about this whole scene is that there are other vacationing surfers from random parts of the world, and the Aussies couldn’t stand them. The Australians were too easily disturbed at the sight of twenty Speedo-clad Israelis jumping off another boat—they hassled the boys for waves and lacked any proper knowledge of surf etiquette. It’s hard not to feel sorry for all the tourists who paid tons of money, only to have to battle some of the world’s best surfers for waves they may not ever see again in their lives. It’s also not hard to feel sorry for the families who witnessed the debauchery the tour unleashes everywhere it goes, especially on an island filled with pro surfers.

One day, while watching the contest, a scream came from somewhere behind us, “Augh, aughhhhhhhhh!” I was the only one to quickly turn around and look—others ignored the commotion as if nothing was going on. “Yeah, aughhhhhhhhhhhhh, yeah, perfect ten!” Finally I looked behind and up to see a long-haired Brazilian with headphones on—screaming in a tower above the contest as he got ready for his heat. Looking back around, none of the other surfers seemed to care.

On the WQS this phenomena isn’t unusual. It’s the funniest thing you’ll ever see. That’s how Brazilians get ready for heats, and it always seems to carry over into the water as well. If a score is given by the judges and the Brazilians don’t like it, all hell breaks loose.

The Maldives contest was where Victor Ribas had his famous rock-throwing incident two years ago. He got upset when he lost, and so started bombarding the judges with rocks. Ribas was “going tropo”—a saying the Australians like to use when you’re stuck on a tropical island or boat and you start to lose your mind. You’d think, “Yeah, it’s a tropical island with beautiful, warm water,” but these guys couldn’t take it. For many, it wasn’t a vacation—it hadn’t been since they were teenagers first joining the tour. No girls, clubs, expensive adult beverages, and the same food over and over—”going tropo” became a more sinister phrase to me now.

Against three Brazilians, Trent Munro eventually won the contest. His Australian mates sat in dingies, cheered him on, and had beers waiting for him in the lineup once the last horn blasted. Munro drank a few, made his speeches, talked to reporters, and everyone went their separate ways.

That night, as everyone boarded the same plane back to Singapore, there seemed to be a relieved look on the competitors’ faces as if it were all over. However, the WQS works in weird ways—next stop, South Africa. The same 200 surfers increase to 300, and “going tropo” simply turns into going mad in Durban. The tour’s the show, and we witnessed it from a safe distance—on a boat.