Feature & Comment
Save Our Waves: Why we protest
A surf break is not like any other play ground. It is a living playground. It is constantly changing. Every surf break has a personality and so many moods, writes Ahmed Rifaee Abdul Sattar, a Maldivian surfer. “We, the surfers at Raalhugandu are facing the destruction of our surf break. Many of us consider the place their home. “
A wave is a force of nature. It is a beautiful geographical process. Give some thought to the combination of factors that make up this movement of absolute energy. As surfers we love our waves. We see what they are capable of. We want to find ways to sustain and nurture surfing and the surf culture in Malé, at Varunulaa Raalhugandu and Rats, and all the perfect conditions that make the surf everywhere else in the Maldives.
Varunulaa Raalhugandu humours the largest surfing population in the country. The four waves at Raalhugandu make up the home break (or home grounds/ training ground, if you will) of arguably, the most accomplished surfers in the country. They include multiple international gold-medal winners and other top ranked finishers.
Surfing is the Maldives’ highest ranked sport if you consider international wins and podium finishes. There are certified surfing instructors whose schools depend on Raalhugandu. Among them are the most educated, experienced, accomplished, and internationally recognized surfing judges and officials in the country. Among them are the most knowledgeable in the culture, history and industry of surfing. Among them are many peaceful, law-abiding, talented, and productive individuals of society, who base their lives around surfing and Varunulaa Raalhugandu.
Varunulaa Raalhugandu a great place to train to become a competent surfer. It consistently provides a variety of different waves and wave conditions on a single “beach.” It also has the longest history of modern surfing in the country.
The construction of a bridge between Malé and Hulhulé, which began in January, is already affecting the quality of our surf.
At a meeting with the representatives of Raalhugandu – the Maldives Surfing Association, Maldives Bodyboarding Association, Malhu Surf School, Malhu School, as well as independent surfers – housing ministry assured us that experiments using miniature models had been conducted to determine the effects on the surf and the quality of the surf at Raalhugandu. Having referred to documentation of the experiments, the ministry assured us that any adverse effect on the waves would be negligible.
Since none of the housing ministry officials demonstrated any credible surfing knowledge, we requested access to these documents so that parties who have the required knowledge may examine them. The ministry declared that the documents were in Chinese and said they would hand over documents once they had been translated. We also offered to find a way to translate the documents ourselves.
It is imperative that we examine these documentations – both written documents and a video presentation – urgently if we are to determine the effects on Raalhugandu, before any irreparable damage has been done to the surf. If we find that these experiments are sufficient to determine the effects on the quality of the waves due to the bridge’s construction, and that there is no cause for alarm about the devaluing of the surf, our concerns will diminish substantially.
Nevertheless, we fear that these experiments may have no, or little, relevance to surfing. If that is the case, we could hire qualified personnel to run appropriate tests and research to formulate a way to build the bridge, eliminating, or in the worst case, minimizing the negative effects on the sustainability and development of surfing at Raalhugandu.
During the meeting, the ministry informed us that there would be times when surfing at Raalhugandu would have to be discontinued due to safety reasons. These bans are to be expected at a later time, when construction takes place directly on, or near, the “line up” where the surf-able waves break. The ministry guaranteed to those present that the surfers of Raalhugandu would be adequately compensated, with regards to access to surf, during those bans. They also guaranteed that the bans will not be permanent.
A concern we raised at the meeting: what if the waves at Raalhugandu became unsurfable due to a predicted or unpredicted side effect of the construction process? The housing ministry guaranteed that if this happens, they would find reasonable alternative ways for all surfers to practice their sport. The establishment of a suitable ferry system to Thamburudhoo was discussed. However, it is important to note that these were matters were just that- discussion. There was no confirmation.
Malhu Surfing School Maldives and Raalhu School voiced concerns that about the possibility of discontinuing surf lessons at Raalhugandu due to construction work. They had a number of employees dependent on the successful operation of these schools.
Their fears have already become reality. Previously, the clear water at Raalhugandu made it possible to see and avoid dangerous rocks and sea urchins littering the seafloor. After land reclamation for the bridge construction began, the sediment has lifted, leaving the water too murky, and the seafloor has changed. Instructors have had to discontinue their lessons because they fear that students, who are mostly preteen children, may be seriously injured.
The housing ministry had also assured them that they would be compensated, if the current situation arose.
At the conclusion of this meeting, the ministry was supposed to send the meeting minutes to MSA and to arrange a follow up meeting to continue. The next meeting was never announced.
What happened next scared us Malé surfers even more. It wasn’t just the waves at Raalhugandu that we risked losing, but also the Rats surf break outside Malé’s south west harbor. Rats is a world class wave when it gets the proper surf conditions. Most surfers who have surfed Rats in perfect conditions rate it as one of the best barrel waves in the country.
Concrete tetra-pods have been piled right near the end section of that wave. This could be devastating for the surf break.
MSA tried requesting a meeting with the Housing Minister by phone calls and messages but they were ignored. Since the situation didn’t give us the luxury of waiting and following proper government procedure, due to the urgency of the matters that needed to be addressed at multiple surf breaks, we had to resort to unconventional methods and a number of Raalhugandu surfers, MSA and MBBA executive committee members requested the workers at Raalhugandu to halt their work and help us contact the relevant authority from the ministry. We spoke politely and respectfully. It was peaceful and nobody was threatened or harmed. The police officers that came to assess the situation will vouch for us.
In the end, we were granted a meeting with the deputy minister of the Housing minatory, Abdulla Muththalib. Although a lot of concerned surfers went to the ministry, only three were allowed into the meeting. These people were, the president and the vice-president of MSA, and a general member. We informed the deputy of our lingering concerns about Raalhugandu and about the situation at Rats.
Muththalib claimed that the government was not aware that Rats was a surf break. He expressed concern and his desire for the ministry to work with us to find a solution. He gave us the contacts of the person we were to call to arrange to go to the site at Rats to assess the situation and possibly find solutions. When MSA called this person, he claimed that he was out of Malé and that he would contact us when he returned. However, this person was seen in the capital that same afternoon.
This was shocking and frustrating for us because it started becoming evident to us that the people we are dealing with do not realize the importance of these areas to surfing. Or if they do realize it, they do not care. We could not come up with any other reason why the relevant authorities were acting so unprofessionally.
Yesterday, MSA and two surfers from Raalhugandu requested a meeting with the Housing minister. Though the minister was busy, we were able to meet with others from the office where we raised our concerns again, possible solutions were discussed, again, but nothing was finalized. The people at the meeting did not have the authority to make decisions and finding solutions were further delayed.
We wonder why surfing is being treated so badly. The sport of surfing has brought more medals and trophies to the country than any other sport. These athletes are some of the best in the Indian Ocean. Surfing is a million dollar tourist industry. And surf tourism is directly affected by the quality of the surf. The better the waves are, the more surfers will come to surf them. Maldives has been blessed with warm weather, clear water, beautiful coral reefs and sea life, good fishing, and most importantly, perfect world class waves – what almost every surfer loves about surf travel. Surfing brings millions of dollars into the country every year and creates many employment opportunities.
The government promised to empower the youth and develop sports. The government’s manifesto stressed their priority to develop surfing as a competitive sport.
Then why is it that so little consideration is given to surfing? Waves are being destroyed all over the country. The surf at Haa Dhaalu Atoll Kulhudhuffushi has been destroyed because of an artificial beach. The wave at Baa Atoll Dharavandhoo has been destroyed due to the construction of the airport runway. The perfect and popular wave at Meemu Atoll Muli is under threat from airport construction.
The extremely long and perfect wave at Dhaalu Atoll Kudahuvadhoo may also be under threat by an airport runway. One of the most popular, and busiest surf breaks in the country, Jails at Kaafu Atoll Himmafushi, may lose its perfect wave due to land reclamation plans.
Surfing is beneficial to islanders like us because it teaches us to take care of our islands, the reefs, the ocean and the sea life. It teaches us more about our environment, how to live with it and to protect it more than any other sport. It teaches us the fragility of this place and how we can protect it. It makes us love our seafaring history and take pride in the ocean knowledge of our ancestors. Most of all, it keeps us humble.
Why isn’t a surf research section included in the Environmental Impact Assessment for these development projects? Our country needs these waves to be protected. A huge number of people benefit from these surf breaks and surfing. And that numbers will only grow, as there are still more perfect waves to be discovered in this country.
So please hear our voices. Recognize us. The surfers at Raalhugandu are facing the destruction of their surf break. Many of us consider the place their home. It has helped build surfing careers for many athletes. It brings peace to all who surf there. Many have made various sacrifices in their lives so that they can carry on surfing at the surf break they love.
A surf break is not like any other play ground. It is a living playground. It is constantly changing. Every surf break has a personality and so many moods.
The surfers of Varunulaa Raalhugandu are protesting because the government authorities are not listening to us. We are scared, hurt and angry. Raalhugandu is the only place of happiness and that a lot of the surfers have in this crowded, unhappy city.
Please listen to us. Recognize us.
Ahmed Rifaee Abdul Sattar is a surfer from Malé
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