Surf Maldives

surf maldives boat trip ©thefreesurfer.com

Guesthouse, resort or boat trip. Everything you need to know.

You want to surf the Maldives, but don’t know where to start? Here is everything you need to know. From what kind of place to stay, to what to bring, an idea about the price ranch and what the waves will be like.

The Maldives are a strict muslim country with only around half a million inhabitants. Alcohol is not allowed here and walking around in your bikini is an equal no go! This stays in a crazy contrast to what people come here for! Going to a country where we as tourists enjoy our time so differently than what the locals are allowed to, felt always weird, even wrong to me! And because of this, it was never a really appealing travel destination for me. 

A decade ago, they started to change some of the laws and locals were allowed to open guesthouses. This new “mid marked” option in a high-end destination brought not only new and different tourists (backpackers for example), but it gave the locals also new job opportunities. Not only guesthouses but everything the tourists might want. From snorkelling trips to laundry service or baby sitting… And this new kind of tourists were also often more interested to see a bit more about the culture and real life. This sounded much more like my kind of travelling , and I felt like I could give it go. (But unfortunately not in 2020! You’ll find out why!)

The Maldives produce not much, what means they have to import most things, including food. This makes it a really expensive place. Most the prices for food are similar to Swiss prices, while the income is of course much lower. This lower income is still many times higher than in other countries in Asia. And that results in higher prices for you as a visitor. You can’t really compare it to Indonesia or Sri Lanka. Keep that in mind if you decide to go and surf the Maldives.

One thing is the same all over the world…

You get what you pay for.

BUT here you will get way less than in the just mentioned places. Or the other way around… If you want the same here as in other South East Asian countries, you’ll pay a multiple amount for it!

Average day at Jaibreak. Not big, not steep, not powerful, and some crowd to navigate. But super fun and playful nevertheless

The Maldives lay in the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean and receive a lot of swell. These swells come is with less force than other parts of the Indian Ocean such as Indonesia, and usually with a shorter period. That makes the waves here not as powerful and more forgiving, but with still world class quality! 

The main season to surf the Northern Atolls and the waves Around Male is northern Hemisphere summer. Starting usually around May until October. Some stretch it even a bit longer. Peak season is July-August. But with the most consistent and the biggest swells come unfortunately often less than ideal wind.

The Southern Atolls are best before and after the peak season (April-May and around October). As the waves down there are more exposed, they need less swell and are still more powerful.

Where to stay? Guesthouse Resort or boat? And what is actually what?!

Guesthouses

Cokes guesthouse Maldives ©thefreesurfer.com
Guesthouse at cokes

Guesthouses are often part owned and run by foreigners. But they are on islands, where local people live too. They are small and won’t have too many guests and are the cheapest option here. If you really want to travel on a budget, you can make your way to your chosen island by local ferry, book a room to sleep, and eat where the locals eat. From there, you can surf the wave in front of your island. That’s by far the cheapest. If you want to surf other waves, you have to pay for the boat shuttle and stick to their time schedules. Or you book a package in a guesthouse with let’s say two surf sessions per day with a surf shuttle. Of course you can book a package with three meals per day and additional yoga, or what ever you want.

Inside the walls of the guesthouse, you can usually walk around with your bikini, and some islands have beaches where bikinis are allowed too. But generally, cover up when you want to walk around the island. (If you use a surf shuttle, this is no problem. Bring a Sarong and leave it on the boat, while you surf in your bikini.)

And the price?

You’ll find these guesthouses online on booking.com, on google, or where you usually look for your accommodation. They start from around 30$ per person and night. But the food and the surf shuttles come additional. That means you’ll be probably somewhere around 50$ minimum, if you go super low budget and always surf the break in front of your island. Calculate 70$ per day as an average is more reasonable or realistic. And with this we’re still talking about going on a tight budget.

Resort

Sultans wave in the Maldives ©thefreesurfer.com
Resort across the channel from Sultans (with Pasta Point as a private wave in front of the bungalows to the right)

Resorts in the Maldives own usually the whole island! No local people living there (except the ones working in the resort) and absolutely nothing that would have anything to do with the culture of this country. This is where a lot of couples like to go for their honeymoon, or just vacation. If you want to go somewhere with crystal clear water, good snorkelling , delicious food and a cocktail in your hand, this could be for you. And if you choose the right resort, you’ve got a private wave in front of you! You’ll see nothing at all of the culture and how local people live their life here. And you spend your time in a parallel reality. Alcohol and Bikinis are no problem. If you don’t mind that, and want to spend all the time with your partner anyways, this could be it. It is really expensive! But as the island is private and everything needs to be imported, this is no surprise. If you decide to stay in a resort, you’re likely to pay everywhere up from a few hundred to a few thousand per night!

Sounds good to you? Check out Pasta Point or Lohifushi. Two super fun long left waves, that are exclusively surfed by the guests of the resort. Only downside, both these waves are a bit wind affected and often don’t get the ideal wind direction during peak season.

Boat trip

Chicken. Perfect left wave to surf in the Maldives
Doesn’t matter is you stay on a cheap boat or a fancy one. The waves are still the same. (No, that’s a Dhoni and not the boat I stayed on!)

A surf boat trip here is just as ignorant as going to a resort. You get picked up at he airport, walk 50 meters, jump on a speedboat, and off to your surfboat for the length of your stay. In 2020, you were not allowed to step foot on an island (because of covid-19), and the only thing you see of the Maldives are a handful of waves, some reefs and palm trees from far away. 

The eat-sleep-surf rhythm is your daily program here, and only changed if you decide to go snorkelling in between. If you’re happy with nothing else than waves, and with countless conversations about everything that goes around surfing, this is your piece of cake. Just pray for waves! If it gets flat or too windy, there is really not much you can do. Prepare yourself for a lot of reading, and for probably more hours in the water than ever before!

Boat trips here are pretty expensive too. Again, this shouldn’t surprise you. If you compare it to a boat trip in Indonesia, not only the salary of the crew is multiple times higher, but the cost of food and everything you need too. Indonesia has fruits and vegetables in an incredible variety and quantity, their own rice and and produce a lot of things locally. Not so here!

A quick collage of what a Maldives surf boat trip looks like. ( weird mix of mobile phone camera, GoPro, drone…)

You can find boats that are fairly cheap, but don’t expect luxury only because it looks fancy on the pictures. They might have been taken ten years ago! The boat I stayed on was somewhere around 140 US$ per person, per night. This included all meals and a bed in a double cabin. It was all right, the food was good and always more than enough and I had a great time. No complains. BUT the boat was rusty on all corners and looked like it could use a proper make over. And the downstairs cabins smelled like a moist basement of an old building in winter! After two weeks on board, all my clothes, bags and even camera were smelly! 

This was one of the cheapest boats in the Maldives, and I can’t tell you how much more you would have to pay to get it a bit more luxurious, and if it would be worth it. After all, you’re going to surf the same waves, cheap or expensive boat.

But this is how it it… You get what you pay for! And in the Maldives, you have to pay a bit more to get a more luxurious accommodation! But if you don’t mind the smell and the run down feeling of it, a surf boat trip could be the best waves per $ ratio here…

All these prices are for the Male Atolls and are only as a vague idea. Check any platform where you usually book your accommodation, or ask them directly. If you want to go and surf the Southern Atolls, everything will be more expensive, as it costs more for transport and has less infrastructure in place.

Surfing (the Male Atolls)

Big day Jailbreak. Great surfing in the maldives
Jailbreak again. This time with a real swell and ideal wind. Different kind of game, equal fun!

The Maldives have a reputation for some of the best and easiest waves in the world to surf! And I can honestly say, I’ve never surfed anywhere waves of such quality with so little power! The shape of the waves is absolutely flawless (on the right day), what makes them so easy to surf. And if you compare them to other waves of equal quality, you will come up with places where the waves are much more powerful and less forgiving. If this is a good or a bad thing is up to you to decide? Taking a big set on your head is definitely much less punishing here than let’s say somewhere in Indonesia. The only exception is, if you get pushed too far over the reef, toward the shoreline of the island, where the reef is sometimes really shallow. 

Even during the season, the swells are usually not really big. Somewhere around 10 seconds and a couple of feet are enough to have fun waves in the shoulder to slightly over head ranch. And this is what you’ll get most of the time here. As soon as the period gets bigger, the wave will get bigger too. But more important than the size of the waves is the direction and strength of the wind. With an ideal wind direction, hip-high waves are super fun here. (Bring your fish). But double over head is still manageable, or at least more friendly and forgiving than what you’re probably used to.

The reefs are beautiful and seam to be very near! But it’s generally relatively deep and the reefs are not sharp. As I said before, If you get washed in through the impact zone, things might be a bit different and you find yourself surrounded by sea urchins (cokes). But generally speaking it’s all much easier and friendlier than it looks at first.

The only problem is, with conditions so easy, you will surf at the top of your game, and will be disillusioned about your own abilities as soon as you surf somewhere else again…

Pascal surfing cokes in the Maldives
Surfing cokes on a big swell. Just before I get swallowed by the wave

Packlist

I’m talking about a surf only trip, where you want to keep it simple. Sure, If you take your missus to a fancy resort, you might want to wear some casual pants and shirt plus footwear. BUT if you go with your mates, and all you care about is to surf, things get much easier… here we go:

° 2 pairs of boardshorts/ bikini (one dry on board/ guesthouse, one wet to surf

° 1 long sleeve lycra shirt (The sun is strong and better a shirt on your skin than sunscreen on the reef)

° 2-4 freshly waxed boards: 

#1 Small wave board (Fish or something)

#2 Everyday board that you will surf almost all the time. Remember, usually the waves are friendly and easy, shoulder high to slightly over head and easy to paddle in

#3 High performance board for slightly bigger waves

#4 Step-up board (not a gun you would surf in Indo, just something that gives you confidence if it does get bigger. 

Check the forecast before you go and decide what board from number 1-4 you need.

° 1 bar of tropical wax per week

° 1 stick/box of Zink per 2 weeks

° 1 bottle of sunscreen per 2 weeks

° Board repair kit

° Tigerbalm, Voltaren… what ever helps you to loosen your muscles and makes you surf again tomorrow

° Nuts, Candies… what ever you need in between surfs

° Cash in US$ for your shuttle, beers, soft drinks and tips. Bring a minimum of 300$… just in case

° Books or better a e-reader

° Go Pro, Camera ( minimum 400mm to shoot from the boat), tripod (if you’re allowed to go on land and shoot from there), dry bag,  drone…

That’s it! No shoes, no shirt needed on a boat! But sure, bring your flip flops and a few shirts if you stay in a guesthouse and want to walk around the island.

chicken surf maldives ©thefreesurfer.com
Perfect day to surf the Maldives! Chickens in all its glory

I was here in 2020, when the local islands were shut for tourists, and so were the guesthouses. And even the number of operating surf boats was smaller than in normal years. This gave me incredible waves with few people in the water! But it’s not always like this! If the wind blows from a certain direction and most waves are not good, all the surf boats will anchor on the same few surf spots. Add the people who stay in a resort near by (where the private wave is blown out) and all the people from the guesthouses on the island. In places like Jailbreak, this can easily end up in a 50 people plus crowd! If this is still fun?

But as I said many times before … it’s us who travel who make the crowd. And if you want to surf easy world class waves with crystal clear warm water, you won’t be the only one… If you want to surf with less people, you have to go the extra step… Where to? that is up to you! Inspiration is everywhere…