SUP: Humbugs and atolls – Pete Cockill’s Maldives SUP adventure

Words and pics: Pete Cockill

“Don’t spend it all on bills or use it to pay off your mortgage; go out and blow some of it, have adventures and make some memories.”

Words from my mum about inheritance money before she lost her battle with cancer in 2007. I took her advice, as I still have bills and a mortgage but have had two great trips to the Maldives.

Pete Cockill new board!

The Maldives are a group of over 1,200 islands situated in the Indian Ocean, south West of India. They were formally under British protection but gained independence in 1965 and are still part of the Commonwealth. I visited the islands back in March 2012 and had an amazing trip, so in autumn 2015 I decided I needed to go again. I looked around at the trips on offer and all the deals but  decided to use Errant Travel a UK based company I had previously used. A couple of phone conversations later and a deposit was handed over, six months to go, time enough to prepare.

I explored the central atolls last time but research showed me that the southern atolls would be a better bet for waves this time of year – however with this new area, board size would be a factor as the inter-island aeroplanes now only take a board bag with a maximum length of 8’6”.

Maldives boat View

I had bought a board earlier that year with the thought that I would have another foreign adventure, but this was 9’5” and now no good. I was not able to find what I wanted to suit my style of surfing in the 8’4” range so decided to explore the custom SUP option. On the SUP in Scotland Facebook forum, someone had mentioned an Irish shaper called Steven Devlin who was based in Larne, Northern Ireland and had a shaping company called Sweit Boards. He produced hand-crafted surf boards, from short boards to big wave boards, for riders such as Al Mennie and wave ski’s that had been used in European championships and would be used in the World championships.

Pete Cockill Maldives backside

After a few phone calls we had built up a rapport and I knew Steven could produce what I needed. Within a month the board affectionately known as the Humbug had been designed. It was 8’4” x 32” wide and 4.5”thick, a short cruiser that would take a 16 stone paddler. It would certainly be suitable for my trip, but I also needed it to work in UK conditions on my return. We decided on a pig style shape from my longboarding days, the volume was put in the rear third, there was plenty of rocker in the nose to enable me to get into the waves early and to prevent nose diving with a V shaped tail to enable me to turn the board easier.

To take delivery of the board I travelled from my home near Glasgow to Stranraer ferry terminal to catch a boat over to Larne in Northern Ireland. Met by Steven at the terminal we headed back to his workshop for tea and biscuits before I retruned home with the Humbug. I only got to trial the board once before my trip but after that test I knew that we were going to get along.

The other thing to sort out before my trip was my health and fitness. I needed to start getting in shape, especially if I wanted to float a shorter board. I joined a local gym, where I participated in circuits twice a week, I swam 40 lengths (one kilometre) twice a week, followed You Tube workouts and changed my diet to a more healthy option – cutting sugar and restricting the chocolate and crisps. I managed to lose a stone and a half in six months and felt in great shape.

Maldives Break View

Departure day had arrived and I was travelling with Emirates. I highly recommend them for flights and looking after your boards. They take boards up to three metres in length with a checked baggage allowance of 30kg and 7kg in the cabin. I somewhat exceeded this (by 7kg) but this was my lucky day, I didn’t have to pay any excess. Seven hours flying to Dubai, an hour in transit to catch my next flight, just over three and a half hours to Male, a short inter-island flight and I had arrived.

My home for the next ten nights was the Horizon 2, an 85ft long boat with a crew of eight taking up to ten surfers. There was a Dhoni, which carried all the boards, and a dinghy that could take up to four surfers close to the breaks. We had small, practical rooms with ensuite shower rooms and air conditioning for temperatures that were still 28 degrees on a night. The hospitality and service on the boat was outstanding, friendly and accommodating. The three meals a day included freshly caught fish, chicken, beef, pasta, rice and everyone’s favourite – ice cream. It was a mixture of Moldavian and Sri Lankan cuisine, mild spices and all freshly produced; just what was needed on a trip like this.

My fellow travellers included a Frenchman, two lads from Poland, four from Israel and two from Australia. At 44, I was one of the youngest – with the majority ranging from 46 to 65 years of age. The two Aussies gave us hope for retirement with respective ages of 57 and 65. They were combining back to back trips, 20 days at sea, and had been coming to the Maldives for 18 years. Daryl the eldest was living retirement to the full with three months spent in Hawaii, two months in the Maldives and the rest in Australia. You have to get on when living and surfing in such close proximity, and I think we did this pretty well.

Pete Cockill Maldives Surf 1

The waves on my last trip were mellow and varied and we got to ride seven different breaks. This time we were predominantly in one spot, a left that broke in three sections and was pretty fast. The wave was not quite running all the way through and on a paddle board you had to be picky as it was closing out near the end into shallow reef. The braver I got, the bigger beatings I tended to be given, but the wave was in an amazing location and compared with UK standards it was a good wave.

We had a day at a right, which was awesome – head high and clean. I broke a leash in the impact zone and had a not so fun drubbing on the reef however, after attaching a new leash and having a quick cup of tea, I was back in the thick of it.

Maldives lineup

This trip was very busy with other boats full of surfers, unlike the last trip where we saw no one and so, as a paddle boarder, you had to be careful about other water users. One day there was in excess of 35 surfers on one peak so I used my board to my advantage and paddled round the corner of the adjoining island to find an empty right hander, up to head high on the peaks and running for up to 100 metres. I stayed on this wave for the last two days and am glad I found it.

My new board coped with all that was thrown at it but it was happier in the mellower surf which it was designed for. The Humbug returned with barely a scratch, unlike me who chipped a tooth on my paddle and lost several chunks of flesh to the reef… Surfing in crystal clear waters with dolphins, turtles, fish of every colour and not to mention warm water was a highlight of the trip but a word of warning: in temperatures reaching 32 degrees, sun protection is a must. Hats, long sleeved rash vests and regularly applying factor 50 are required, as sunburn can ruin a trip .

Pete Cockill Maldives surf 3

Day light is from 6.30am to 6.30pm and after two or three sessions a day most people were in bed by 10pm. Evenings were spent fishing, talking and eating. The Horizon 2 was definitely the boat to be on as the service was outstanding but for a paddle boarder and me personally I preferred the variety of waves from the previous trip. You are in the hands of the swell gods and we were still lucky to have surf every day.

The surf safari aboard a boat is one of the most affordable ways to visit the Maldives, costs for ten nights full board with internal flights and all surfing cost £1,640. There are cheaper seasons and great last minute deals to be had. Flights to the Maldives were £700 return and a custom SUP £670, well worth it with memories to last a lifetime.

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