A battle is under way in the Maldives to save one of the region's most popular surf breaks that could be ruined if a controversial new bridge is built.
Raalhugandu, in the south east of the country's capital of Malé, is the centre of Maldivian surf culture and home to more professionals than any other part of the country. Most importantly these are the only peaks accessible from shore for local surfers, and if they are lost you'll need a speedboat to get to the next nearest wave at Jail Breaks, some 30-40 minutes away, an expense most locals cannot afford to pay.
But all is not well in the surf scene at Raalhugandu. The waves are under threat of being lost due to a new bridge that aims to join Malé with the island of Hulhule, in an attempt to better connect the capital with its international airport.
President of the Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) Ahmed ''AJ'' Aznil found himself spending the night in a cell earlier this month after allegedly obstructing police during a protest over the construction of the new bridge.
Varunulaa Raalhugandu is the best place to train to become a competent surfer. It consistently provides a variety of different waves and wave conditions on a single beach.
To make things more difficult, surfers have been banned from getting in the water near the bridge's construction site, facing arrest if they do so, a fact driven home by police who use megaphones to shout at anyone bound for the water. The ban is being enforced strictly, with four surfers arrested recently upon their return to land after a defiant session.
But that hasn't stopped a passionate group of surfers and bodyboarders getting together and launching a Save Our Waves campaign. They hope to find an alternative solution than building the bridge – but since work began on it in January, it is looking increasingly unlikely the development will be stopped.
While the MSA recognises the benefits of the bridge, they say a more sustainable solution should be found. Not only a past-time, surfing brings healthy tourism to the region, with businesses depending upon the trade it generates.
Specifically, the MSA say the latest plans show supporting structures for the bridge will be built in the water near Raalhugandu, which could interfere with the consistent waves that break there and make it un-surfable.
Speaking to Magicseaweed, surfer Sippe Riffath, a member of the MSA said: ''Varunulaa Raalhugandu is the best 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 Male and Hulhule, which began in January, is already affecting the quality of our surf.”
Raalhugandu has schooled some of the Maldives' greatest surfers. And surfing as a sport, is one of the most popular in this island nation.
The bridge is under construction by Chinese contractors who have produced an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report to look at the structure's impact on waves at Raalhugandu.
Representatives from the MSA tried to obtain the document, but were told by the Maldives Government that it was in Chinese, instead, the group has relied on spoken assurances that the bridge will have little or no impact on the wave quality.
The Save Our Waves campaign group say that the EIA, and other documents produced around the impact of the bridge, could be lacking in local surf knowledge and, therefore, are possibly unreliable.
But, at a meeting in Maldives National University on Wednesday, the consultancy company who carried out the EIA, CDE Consulting, met with local surfers and bodyboarders, telling them the bridge will affect wave height by 2-5 per cent and that the second reef off the coast of Raalhugandu will no longer produce waves.
''Without the swell filling in from second reef, the other waves will have no way to form for the next two sections, and this critical bit of information comes from experience.
''It’s so sad that some of us are really scared to go in the water now. I mean, how can you just keep looking at perfect waves reeling off in front of your eyes?'' Sippe added.
The introduction of a ferry system that would shuttle surfers to far away alternative surfing locations, if the wave is ruined as a result of the bridge, has been discussed – but the MSA say there are, as of yet, no concrete plans for this to be made a reality.
The MSA is still looking for a more sustainable solution and are calling for an option that would not “destroy world-class waves at Raalhugandu” before the bridge is finished.
Join the Save Our Waves campaign HERE.