Maldives Retreat on Wave Privatisation

A glassy afternoon at Sultans which is now, reportedly, free for you to surf.

A glassy afternoon at Sultans which is now, reportedly, free for you to surf.

© 2014 - Giorgio Rollo

The Maldives appears poised to retreat on years of steadily encroaching wave privatisation, but the small print remains a little fuzzy. The Ministry of Tourism has announced that all popular surf and dive spots have been excluded from resort boundaries, meaning that Lohi’s, Kandooma Rights, Pasta Point, Sultans and Honky’s should be freed from current access restrictions.

Tim Heising of Luex.com broke the news to magicseaweed, that in addition to abandoning controversial plans to privatise the waves of Thanburudhoo, existing restrictions have been lifted at popular spots. "The Maldivian Ministry of Tourism has made a major amendment to resort boundary regulations and has excluded all popular surf and dive points from the resorts' boundary. That means that surf resorts can no longer prohibit access to surf breaks within their boundary, to any surfer. Basically, with this amendment, all breaks, including Chayaa Dhonveli Resort (Pasta Point), Hudhuranfushi Resort (Lohi’s), Holiday Inn Kandooma (Kandooma Rights) and the recently privatised Thanburudhoo Island (Sultans and Honky’s), should be free to be surfed again."

The Maldivian Ministry of Tourism has made a major amendment to resort boundary regulations and has excluded all popular surf and dive points from the resorts’ boundary. That means that surf resorts can no longer prohibit access to surf breaks within their boundary, to any surfer.Tim Heising

At first glance this appears to be good news for open access to surf breaks, but what exactly does popular mean, and when will these changes trickle down through the opaque and authoritarian regulatory regime in the Maldives? "That's the uncertainty we still have." Says Tim Heising "The Tourism Ministry has yet to publish such a list. Moreover they want to publish management rules of breaks that prevent overcrowding. But is that possible at all? How?

"All the boat owners, Liveaboardassociation or MSA [who have been campaigning against privatisation] argue that all waves are now open following the change in the the law. But when you talk to the other side especially Hudhuranfushi/World Surfaris (Lohis) and Atoll Travel (Pasta Point, Sultans, Honkys) they interpret the rules differently. They say it will only be open once the list of spots have been published, and once the management plan is in place. In general they will fire back heavily. There is a lot of money involved. And I guess it is even questionable if the Ministry of Tourism is allowed to change the law. Keep in mind that the resorts have leased the islands for a lot of money with the promise and agreement that the reef belongs to them. They now face lawsuits by their clients. I have also talked to the former president (Ahmed Zubair Adam) of the Liveaboard Association. He is a respected business man and runs three live-aboard boats in the Maldives. He has his doubts whether, or when, the breaks will open."

Honky's on Thamburudhoo island during restrictions.

Honky's on Thamburudhoo island during restrictions. "We showed up around noon with our main boat. And that dingy came from the MNDF army base to let us know that access was denied unless we had permissionfrom Thanburudhoo Pvt LTD. Said Anthony Colas

© 2014 - maldivesurf.com

Anthony 'Yep' Colas, of maldivesurf, has just returned from a charter in the Maldives. "Before we left, we knew what was supposed to happen but no-one could say for sure what would happen. I had guests in early February who went to Honky's, and it was fine. Then, two guests from Cokes guest house were forced to leave the water after 45 mins of surfing there on Feb 25. I showed up with my guests on March 05 and immediately got stopped by security guys from the army base nearby. They told us we needed permission to go surf, so we bailed southwards to the Central Atolls.

A major change in resort regulations stating that the outer slope of the reef is not part of the resort boundary anymore. Which is a wise move because resorts were starting to put their hands on surfing reefs, diving reefs, picnic islands... So, now, yeah, all spots are accessible.Anthony Colas

"And the very same day the Liveaboard Association of Maldives released a major change in resort regulations stating that the outer slope of the reef is not part of the resort boundary anymore. Which is a wise move because resorts were starting to put their hands on surfing reefs, diving reefs, picnic islands... So, now, yeah, all spots are accessible. Including Pasta Point in front of Chaaya Dhonveli and Lohi's in front of Huduranfushi.

"Obviously, those who have paid the high price for privacy will probably a bit nervous when outsiders come to surf. Like the surf pass at Chaaya Dhonveli, which is a $180 per day and $175 at Huduranfushi (including boats). Most resort surfers pay a high price for quiet lineups and I'll wait a bit to see how the water management of those resorts accept this new situation. But I bet you will not want to break your leash, because the island managers will probably not return a board to any outsiders willing to step on their inside reef.

"That is a great news for the boat owners and local surf guides and the vast majority of international surfers, always keen to think that the ocean should be free of access. I will have guests soon surfing North Male and they'll tell how it's like to be the first non-paying surfers at Lohis and Pasta Point.

"The situation has completely changed before the parliament elections on March 22 which has been a surprise to many local surfers. The "Save Thamburudhoo" campaign worked indeed and now it's time to enjoy the freedom of surfing those breaks."

It is probably safe to assume that this isn't the last we will hear from this situation in the Maldives. Where the tourist dollars run deep many vested interested follow and this seismic change in privatisation seem sure to reverberate further. However, reversals such as this are not unprecedented, Cloudbreak in Fiji being the most high profile location to have restrictions successfully lifted.

Thamburudhoo island with the Handhufalhi boat in the foreground.

Thamburudhoo island with the Handhufalhi boat in the foreground.

© 2014 - maldivesurf.com


Ed Temperley

Founding editor at magicseaweed