Three English, two African, a German, one Swiss, two Guerns, an American and an Irish step onto a boat.....
Nope this isn't the start of a hilarious, non pc, joke. It's the start of the third UniSURFity annual Maldives trip. The groups on these trips end up pretty diverse. However this one wins the prize for furthest travelled. Tobias from Massachusetts had to travel nearly 24 hours, and the Namibian couple for just the sheer hassle of flights.
The group's journey had magically (well, maybe I'd orchestrated it slightly) split into 2 groups. The first group were leaving from their respective countries and then all sharing the final leg from Doha to Maldives with Qatar Airways. The group I coincided my flight with are now in front of me at the Heineken Bar. A little delirious but awake due to the excitement of their chat to one another. There's some regular faces here. Ben and Grace are now on their third UniSURFity trip to the Maldives. Then I have Tobias who's travelled from the US to surf in tropical waters for the first time. They're keeping wide awake, reminiscing on the previous trips, their favourite waves from around the world. They're all laughing and getting on despite the incredibly overpriced, average $13 pint of Heineken in front of them. This group are going to get on well!!
We are now just a few hours away from the start of yet another adventure with my company UniSURFity Ltd.
I'll let you into a little secret. It's always been a dream and therefore a goal of mine to run a boat trip in the Maldives. Ever since a very good friend of mine had his honeymoon out here. He surfed all day and described it as "the best surf trip money can buy, you have to go!" Ever since that chat, despite being told by many that it can't be done. It has and I can proudly say that this is my third FULL boat trip despite many little problems along the way. UniSURFity and the concept of it sounds great. The pictures and video's that you get bombarded by at your desk on a Monday morning look like I have the best job in the world. What you don't see is the amount of effort to orchestrate guests, hosts, logistics with the sea and surf. That's all before the coaching gets done. It's my aim to make each trip better. To never stagnate but to evolve. Despite many testing logistical, political and now economic spanners being thrown into the works, this year's Maldive's trip was the best yet. The boat was 25% bigger and on another level for quality than previous. The trip is now 12 days rather than 10. The food was another radical step up. The crew of 14 were even more hospitable. All of this but with just a 15% rise in cost on last year's trip. The only thing I can't control is the surf. However we went into the trip at the tail end of a classic swell, and our final day of surfing we had the forerunners of the swell of the year. In between was consistently around the shoulder to just overhead range.
Back to the trip...
The two groups meet at the airport in the Maldives. It looks more like a Harbour to be honest. Our crew from the boat are there with a big sign up waiting to meet us all. After a brief wait for the guests to grab sim cards with enough data to download all of the internet. We're ready to go to the mothership.
This year's group was made up of regular clients such as Grace Doyle from Ireland. I've been coaching Grace for well over 6 years now. I've been searching for her first ever footage to the most current to see the difference. Wow! In that time she's gone from a timid little Irish girl to a bit of a local surf star and role model for up coming girls in Ireland as well as Europe. She's supported heavily by Billabong and Quiver surfboards, as well as a sun care company too. The latter is very handy as I've never seen anyone go through so much sunscreen. However the Irish complexion and Maldivian sun mean that you have to be careful of course.
Ben Gathercole, from Guernsey, is on his third Maldives trip with me too. I've known Ben since I was 8, and surfed with him regularly. He's been known as the "runt" of the family as he used to travel with my tall, blonde family but was the shorter darker kid! He's always been someone that I've looked up to and I now have the pleasure of offering him a unique trip that gives him respite from his stressful financial job. Despite him surfing much longer than me, it's also great to see his surfing improving each trip due to my input. Removing deeply engraved habits from nearly decades of surfing to smooth out and accentuate the power in his surfing.
I also had surfers from the other end of the spectrum. Corinne and Hayley who were about to have their first real exposure to coral reefs and tropical perfection. Matt and Gareth too.
This is what I love about these trips.
By having surfers from intermediate through to pro it means I have to really analyse and think about the content and delivery of the general lessons to the group. As well as the individual tips that I'll speak to each client personally about. It's a job that makes you think on your feet constantly. Making sure your feedback is efficient and critical, but not damaging to their confidence.
The lead up to this always involves a lot of personal messages to each client. These messages not only include the final fine logistic tweaks but also the main question of equipment. Surfboards primarily. I love them and the biggest problem I see is people on the wrong boards. The last thing I want is to watch someone waste their hard earned cash on a trip of a lifetime, struggling on the wrong board. So after a series of emails, Facebook messages and even skype calls. I'm rest assured that everyone is happy and confident with the equipment they've brought. Boards, fins, leashes, wax and even what shorts they're surfing in are all covered. Maybe I should open a surf shop?! Back to the trip...
Everyone is here, bar one.
Our Welsh/Scouser Doctor and qualified surf medic has missed his connecting flight. After a few quick emails and a bit of research on the next inbound flight. A speed boat is organised to be there for his arrival and a swift trip to catch up with the main group. The beauty of no thinking travel for you guys!
We've all been ferried to our boat minus one, and whilst having lunch we've arrived at the the infamous Jails, Honky's and Sultans breaks. As soon as the waves are first seen, everyone's at their boardbags unpacking, and waxing their boards up. All I can see on the bow deck is a mountain of new and nearly new firewires, and a couple of quiver boards too. Everyone's boards have survived the curse of the baggage handlers. Grace has just finished her 15 minute routine of sun screen application, and we're now ready to go.
Jumping on the 10 metre Dhoney, I give the group a quick briefing on the Jails. Where to sit, currents, how to call in the boat for a pick up, which waves to catch and how to read them on the reef. Everyone's pumped for their first free surf of the trip. I'm in with them, washing off the jet lag and travel grime with my first duckdive. Even though this is a free surf, I'm always watching. Reading how everyone is surfing. Who's confident, who's a little wary. Also looking to see how everyone is surfing. This watching everyone without their knowledge but in their raw state. I haven't witnessed anything that can't be tweaked over this trip which is great. An hour later, a big smiley guy paddles up and introduces himself to everyone. It's Gareth he's made it and he's stoked to be in tropical waves for the first time. In fact everyone's stoked, the waves are firing, the boat and the crew are above everyone's expectations and the beers are cooling in the fridge as we surf. This trips going to be a blinder!!