Earlier this year, Brit surfing champ Lucy Campbell headed to the Maldives in search of paradise. Armed with a fresh quiver from her long-term shaper, Lucy spent two weeks on a surf charter around one of the archipelago's longest atolls, tag-teaming the whole trip with photographer and general partner in crime, Maddie Meddings. The duo's mission was to seek out empty, tropical heaven and for the most part, they found it.
“Postcard perfection,” is how Lucy described the archipelago. “Crystal clear, blue water and white, sandy, jungle lined beaches. We had a few mornings where the water was so glassy that even sat up on your board you could see all the fish and turtles swimming on the reef below. It was magical.”
“The place just fills you with wonder,” Maddie said. “Being on the boat you've got panoramic views of the clearest water you've ever seen, with bejewelled reefs beneath you. Palm trees line the horizon and the clouds shift and change with the breeze. Because of the heat you're outside from the moment you wake up until it gets dark, so you have that beautiful, fresh faced feeling that you get from camping back home [in Cornwall], where your days feel so full and well-lived.”
Lucy and Maddie have been working together in one way or another for the past decade. Prior to shooting, they spent summers living together, working in bars to save money for surf trips, exploring Mexico and Central America. “That time together sealed the deal of a lifelong friendship, highs and lows and some absolutely hilarious stories,” said Maddie.
“I started shooting soon after we got back and so it was only a matter of time (and improvement on my part) before we could start really creating together.”
Lucy added: “Now we’ve finally found what we want to do [surfing professionally and photography] we’re both gradually turning our passions into careers. It only seemed right that we combined forces.”
From Woolacombe to the Laamu Atoll
So what's surfing in the Maldives like for the UK champ? “We had so many super fun waves, but I think the one that stands out for me would be when a chunky swell hit a few days into our trip. We were anchored at a spot called Yin Yangs. It's a hollow wave that breaks in about chest deep water. Needless to say, the thought of getting cheese-grated up the coral reef was a little daunting.
"I paddled back out past a bodyboarder getting the most incredible, square barrel and that was a turning point for me. I wanted to find one of those. After about an hour of getting a few waves, building up some confidence and waiting for the right one, I finally got it.
"There is definitely something to be said for working though a fear and coming out the other side of it. It has to be one of the most rewarding feelings. In total I think I spent nine hours in the water that day… I was hooked on finding more!”
“Luce got an absolute stonker of a barrel at Yin Yangs around our fourth or fifth day there," said Maddie. “It had a really meaty lip and she tucked in and got so deep. It was really exciting to watch, especially the progression leading up to it too. She was ripping the whole trip but that was an exceptional one.”
While Lucy had her fill of pumping surf, Mads has some heart-pounding moments too. “I actually got a bit spooked at one spot. I’ve got a bit of a morbid fascination with sharks and it just felt a bit sharky in this one place. It was overcast when we arrived, there was a lot of fish activity too and quite a strong rip.
"One morning we headed out before it got light to watch the sunrise from the sea. A set came through and I was ready and waiting, watching the guys paddle for a wave. I saw some splashing out the corner of my eye further down the reef, and my eyes darted over in time to see two dolphins surfing down the face. It was hands down the best thing I’ve ever seen, I couldn’t even shoot, I was just dumbstruck!”
Speaking of scary experiences, Lucy described the devastating effect of pollution on paradisiacal places like the Maldives. “It’s awful to see the effect that humans are having on these heavenly places. Every island that we visited, even in remote areas, was lined with plastic waste; drinks bottles, laundry bottles, shoes, bottle caps. You name it, you’d find it.”
More than a Surf Trip
Other than surfing and shooting, Lucy, Maddie and the rest of the crew onboard spent the days drinking in the beauty of their surroundings, relaxing, eating and exploring. Maddie, reminiscing about her time on the OA3 said, “I mostly just gorged myself on Chef Janine’s incredible food. After swimming for hours at a time I just couldn’t get enough! We spent a fair bit of time snorkelling around the breaks too.
"The wildlife is just incredible out there and getting the chance to explore the reef added to the whole experience. I find it fascinating getting under the water around surf spots. Above water you’re only ever seeing half the picture and it’s only when you get below that it really starts to make sense, how these pulses of energy can create perfect rides when they hit the reef.”
Lucy added, “The thing I love most about being on the boat is that you are basically outside all the time. I think we saw the sun rise and set every day of our trip, they are just too mind-blowing to miss. Down time was spent playing cards or backgammon, fishing, snorkelling with turtles and baby sharks, star gazing, soaking up the view, drinking a gin or two, swimming in bioluminescence, or just exploring the islands. It's a pretty dreamy existence.”
Dialling in New Boards
Lucy has been on the Cord team for a long time. Cord Surfboards was originally born on the Sunshine Coast of Australia in the 60s. Started by brothers David “Humphrey” Lascelles and Peter “Chops” Lascelles, the shapers have had their feet firmly planted in the roots of surfing through an evolutionary era in the sport.
Now based in St Agnes, Cornwall, and run by Chops’ son Markie, the factory hand-shape boards for some of the UK’s rising stars.
Lucy has recently been developing a new all-round performance model alongside Markie, which she trialled on the trip. “It’s more of a comp board, but I can’t say too much about it before it’s launched! The other board, which has become my all-time go-to board, is the new version of Cord’s Arc model.
"It’s a round tail twin fin that was originally built for Noah Lane. Markie altered the bottom shape on it and took away the channels for me. I surfed this board in everything from knee high runners to overhead hollower waves and absolutely loved it. It’s so easy to catch waves, super responsive and lively with that playful, twin fin looseness and acceleration.”
Pro Tip: Shooting in the Tropics is Easier than in Europe
Maddie has been shooting freelance for the past three years. Her photography and videography covers people, places and product, and she utilises her in-water experience to capture Lucy shredding. We asked her how shooting in the tropics compared to working in European waters: “It set the bar pretty high! It's a lot easier for a start. The waves break in pretty much the same place every time.
"There’s often a channel that you can float around in. It’s warm, the water’s crystal clear. The ‘talent’, my collective name for the group, were absolutely ripping. It’s a magical combo for water shooting, which can be testing at the best of times. Out there you’ve already got your best foot forward, which helps to create a space to be really creative.
"It'll be hard to beat. I also think preparation was key for this trip. Amazon doesn’t exist out there so I had to either have replacements or the ability to repair bits if anything went wrong, which was quite a novel experience for me. We’re so blessed in Europe to have everything so accessible to us, often within 24 hours, so being self dependent like that was probably the main difference.”
Should I Book a Trip to the Maldives?
Just drink it all in,” Mads gushed, “For two weeks the extraordinary becomes ordinary; you get to surf perfect waves constantly, you see turtles and dolphins every day, the sky lights up in ways you’ve never seen and the stars out on the boat, with no light pollution, are breathtaking.
"It honestly feels like a dream once you’re back home, so just enjoy every minute of it. Saying that, it’s also good to know your stuff forecasting-wise. We had Markie who was pretty well seasoned with the area and the waves. He made a lot of amazing calls on which islands to head to. It’s definitely worth getting clued up on the spots before you get out there, or have someone with you who is.”
Lucy’s tips were also invaluable for someone who’s never experienced life onboard a live-aboard: “It's not the be all and end all, but try to get on a boat with people of your level of surfing, that way you’ll be sure to get to the right spots for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the water; Where is the take off spot? Which way is the current pulling?
"I’d also recommend taking reef boots if you are fairly new to surfing reefs, just so you can put your feet down to jump over waves if need be.
"Take all the sun protection you can, and some sea sickness tablets just incase. Also, it’s okay to feel nervous booking a trip, I still get apprehensive before I go away! Just remember that it’ll be worth it when you get there. The first boat I went on I didn’t know anyone else on board and it was still one of the best trips of my life."
If you're thinking of heading over to the Maldives, consider your skill level first. Spots like Ninjas is great for the intermediate surfer. Somewhere like Cokes is a hollow right hander that can handle swells from 2-10ft. Just over the way is Chickens, it is the left to Cokes' right and on bigger swells can create a 400 metre wave. Way more options, here.