This feature was in issue 196 of Carve. The moving pictures from the trip have finally surfaced…
Words, Photos, Film and Edit by Sharpy
It was somewhere around the fourth hour of hanging onto the arms of the captain’s chair in the wheelhouse while being buffeted by an Indian Ocean storm that I questioned whether boat trips are all they’re cracked up to be.
As I reeled from side to side, the chair’s mount squeaking at the strain of holding 90kgs of prime English beef upright, I remembered the first time I went down south in the Maldives fifteen years ago, when we nearly sank. Or the long crossing in the outer isles of Tahiti where most folks ended up hanging over the rail turning themselves inside out. The many cases of nuclear sunburn surfers have suffered from not lubing up enough on day one. The octopus that was genuinely less edible than a Pirelli. The weapon’s grade hangovers only the tropics can deliver. The smug impossible cool of folks that can easily open coconuts.
But then I was diverted by a stroboscopic round of lightning that illuminated the whole ocean. There was a robust cheer from all the crew downstairs partying their way through the awful crossing. Then darkness descended once more. Just me, the silently but violently flatulating deckhand asleep in the cot and the faint LED glow of the instruments; the radar showing the rainstorms being particularly fascinating. It’s an excellent time to ponder existence is being the sole awake guy up top. Watching for krakens, sirens and mermaids. Surveying the impossible scope of the ocean…
Of course, I’ve skipped to the middle of the story.
A week before that moment of reverie a crew assembled, at the invite of the genial Jem Rogers, him of OMX Adventures. All we had to do was rendezvous in Male on a particular day, to meet the OA3, a boat you’ll know as it’s become an annual tradition now in the mag for us to gracefully accept a freebie aboard it classy environs.
Markie Lascelles invited his team riders for some R&D on the G&T express and Lucy Campbell, Noah Lane and Conor Maguire were more than happy to tag along. Ben Skinner brought the stellar talent that is his son Lukas for his first big international trip outside of Europe and his first boat mission. So you can imagine how excited the grom was. Portugal’s Leonor Fragoso completed the compliment. The crew assembled, boat stocked up, forecast looking promising we had a quick warm-up at Honkys before motoring overnight down south.
Now sure the famed northern atolls of the Maldives are more consistent, more exposed and have some class waves. Jails, Lohis, Sultans, Cokes and Pasta Point, are all well known, but also very well surfed. It’s not a surfing backwater anymore and increasingly is seen as a joint for Eurotrash to learn to surf, which is all kinds of mad. Learning to surf over live coral in rippy reef passes … Ok, Sven and Dimitri, you’re up, try not to kill anyone with your funboards ok?
So we were heading south. The atolls of potential. Less well known and more tricky to score but all the more rewarding if you do. That and odds on you’re going to be the only boat around. Our Saffa captain Craig knew his onions when it came to the complex swell/wind dynamics of the atolls, and we headed off into the big blue.
Boat trips are best with your crew, sure sometimes you haven’t got a bunch of mates of your level and have to fill a spot on a boat, but if poss a boat of you and your friends is ideal.
Conor and Noah live in catapult range of each other on the coast in Bundoran. They share the intense Irish winter sessions as, along with Gearoid, the bleeding edge of Irish heavy water surfing. So they’re comfortable around each other. Conor and Lucy met on the OA3 Indo mission last year and found common ground in both being young pros. Lucy now rides for Markie who’s the guy that introduced us all to Jem. Markie grew up with Skindog, Lukas literally is connected to Ben genetically, and on that first afternoon, Lukas was already entertaining Leonor and Lucy with his infectious energy. Lucy and Leonor also travel together at QS events having met last year. So connections abound and, not counting shoots in Bundoran, I’ve been on trips with all of them before, except Noah. Some many times. So there wasn’t any awkward getting to know you moments. It felt like a family from day one.
Lukas, Lucy and Leonor, the three Ls, mad keen to surf all day, every day. Sunburn be damned. Conor and Noah, the tube hound goofy foots wondering where all the left-handers were. Newly toned Markie, off the beers and carbs, and feeling all the better for it stealthily timing his twinnie surfs between the others. And Ben, keeping on top of his ever-growing global business and family, spinning plates like no other while being one of the best surfers in the world.
All we needed now was some surf.
The forecasts had looked promising. Two robust storms churning in the Southern Ocean firing off decent period and direction swell up the Indian. Of course, as is the way of things when you have a pimp boat, a savvy El Capitan with other boat captains on speed dial and an epic crew of the UK and Ireland’s finest the swell just sort of buggered off. Leaving us with the background always there couple of foot that is the default in these parts. Which is, of course, better than nothing. We had waves every day. Not the waves we dreamed of, not the long, fast, shallow barrels we’d been talking up incessantly. While that led to a resigned air amongst the older crew, Lukas was having the best surf of his life every damn day. Head high runners in crystal clear water teeming with fish in water warm as wee with a boat with a fridge full of pop and Mars bars just a short paddle away? Heaven. Add in working WiFi to keep up with the fam back home, and you could not have made for a happier kid.
The adults got busy hurting themselves instead. Ben booted the back of his fin coming down from a big fins free lip assault and put an ugly gash in his big toe. Conor went for a late take off on a wedgy peak that decided it would go dry, so he pretty much fell knees first onto the coral. Noah busied himself, blocking the boat’s toilet. He’s not sure how either.
The days blur a bit on boats. You don’t sleep so well as it’s so hot. So you’re in a constant semi-daze. Breakfast happens. Fruit, yogurt, muesli, coffee. Then maybe after a surf second breakfast appears. Eggs and toast. Then there’s another surf. Then lunch. Fish and chips? Sweet. Then a post-lunch nap. Then another surf. Then it’s nibbles and drinks before dinner. Leading into a very welcome massive game of Shithead. I’ve lamented the lost art of surf trips in these pages before. How modern life was ruining the experience as everyone retreats into their phone bubbles. The group experience of old fading into the past. Not with this crew. iPhone obsessives, they are not. So refreshing. Good old card games. Backgammon and more. Sure certain people have strange rules (you can’t put a 10 on a seven, that’s the power of ‘lower than a seven’! And we don’t even want to talk about Noah’s weird Aussie rules). In short, if you were in a Russian sub with the hydrophones out you would have heard a lot of laughter emanating from the OA3 night after night. A group of diverse humans from 11 to 50ish all enjoying the life on the ocean waves, a few drinks and some heartfelt communication.
So returning to the question are boat trips all they’re cracked up to be?
That night, I’d tried sleeping outside until the monsoon style rains bested the cushion I was hiding under. The main cabin was too hot and lively. So I hid in the wheelhouse. Rocking from side to side in the cap’s chair and trying to not think about spewing. While wondering about my life choices.
I’ve done a lot of boat trips in my time. And sure in these environmental times, all surf trips are not exactly eco-friendly. But there’s nothing like a surf boat trip. It’s a guarantee of fun.
These are the times you get your pub anecdotes. I’ve retold the ’night we nearly sank’ tale a score of times, and on that trip, we got one afternoon of waves in a week.
Lukas will be blowing his school friends’ minds with tales of swimming with mantas, surfing with sharks, throwing jugs of iced water on leading British pro surfers as they reclined in a hammock and getting his hair dyed pink to the amazement of his mum.
We didn’t score epic waves. We didn’t need too. Sometimes the journey is enough. Surfing is part of the enjoyment. If you score you score. It’s hard to go anywhere in the world on a dead cert. It’s all about the experience. The otherworldly blues of the Maldives. The amazing environment. The laughs. The good times. The write-offs. The group of people brought together to enjoy life in that window in that place. That was it. We had a blast.
Is a boat trip something you need to experience at least once in your surfing life? Hell yes. Just don’t expect guaranteed waves. Oh, and also don’t be down current of me if it’s time for my ‘morning swim’…
Huge thanks to Jem, Fiona, Craig, Luke and Marilé of OMX and the OA3 for another epic mission. To book your adventure: oceanmountainexplorers.com
And a big shoutout to the awesome folks at qatarairways.com for their surfer friendly, no stress service, awesome planes and Doha is an excellent airport for a transit these days.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING ON A BOAT
-There’s no ‘popping to the shops’. If you didn’t bring it, then you should’ve. In the Maldives during Ramadan, you don’t just pop down the watery Tescos, no. You are pretty much screwed unless you can confidently take a tender in and out of tiny coral infested harbours after dark. Then at least the island store might be open. They may only have coconuts and Magnums, but that’s all the main food groups sorted. They will not have surf wax tropical or otherwise, iPhone charging cables or a copy of 50 Shades. Be prepared. Medical kit, surf stuff, sun protection, local SIM and a good book.
-Boats go on the sea, which is prone to being a bit wobbly. So if you’ve not done a boat trip before maybe get the ferry to the mystical surf nation of the Isle of Wight. Or similar. Just to get an idea of what being at sea is like. Finding out you get seasick twenty minutes into a ten-hour overnight sail is not a fun place to be. The best advice is, don’t eat a lot and look at the horizon. Or sleep if you’re not sweating your ring off.
-Fussy fish. Odds on there’ll be fish on the menu, especially if you enjoy the challenge of hooking them on a bit of string off the back of the boat. Make sure the boat knows if you have any dietary kinks as the odds of there being an organic vegan menu is unlikely. Expect rice, pasta, tats, veggies, fish, mince, chicken and variations thereof. It’s no fun cooking in a cramped galley when it’s 40C in the shade so buckle up and eat whatever’s thrown in front of you. Fresh sashimi from a fish you’ve just bested is one of life’s sweetest tastes. Just don’t snort the wasabi.
-Hydrate. You’ll never sweat as much as you do on a tropical boat trip. Sure you can huck yourself into the brine to cool down, but your pores won’t know what hit them. Be careful on the sauce unless you really want to be pissing Tate & Lyle’s finest golden syrup.
-Rules. Your captain will brief you on basic safety where the lifeboat is, life jackets, flares (who called the fashion police?) and so on. Main points are don’t go wandering around outside after dark when sailing, especially for an inebriated piss off the side as if you fall in the drink you’re as good as done for. Also, be aware the boats and tenders (the little tub that drops you at the break) are heavy things wobbling on the sea. Don’t get squished between the two or go anywhere near the rotating blades of death, or “props” to use maritime parlance, that makes them go along. Your cap or deckhand will let you know when the engines in neutral and it’s safe to play silly buggers. Also, listen to the toilet rules. Don’t be the ding-dong that blocks the shitter with wads of bog roll that can be happily composted at sea. Best to cut out the middleman, avoid the sweatbox lev and go for a delightful relaxing aquaturd. Just don’t think about the fish eating your turds that you are then catching to eat…
-Plastic. Yes, we know ocean plastic is so on trend now it’s not cool anymore but hooking stray water bottles and crisp packets that are voyaging past you in the lineup all help stop it choking some sea life later on. Even the remote Maldives is not immune to the plastic plague. Also, don’t be shocked when the cook wings leftovers from cooking in the drink. It’s fish food, don’t sweat it.