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Maldives. Photo: John Seaton Callahan

Crowds won’t be an issue here. Photo: John Seaton Callahan


The Inertia

Unless you regularly surf in the freezing backcountry of the northern latitudes, an impossible-to-access reef break, or a shark infested area of the globe, you know that crowds are an issue. A major one. Ask a surfer from Southern California or the Gold Coast what their biggest gripe is and it’s a good bet the first thing out of their mouth will have something to do with the crowds at their local lineup. Dealing with crowds at your home break is one thing, but dropping a ton of cash and traveling to far-flung destinations just to jockey for position with 20 other surfers is something no one wants to experience. To ensure more space in their lineups and avoid complaints from visiting surfers, some resorts have taken to privatizing local breaks so that only guests of their establishment have access to the most desired surf spots. In many cases, this involves denying access to local surfers who are no longer allowed to surf the prime waves many of them helped to cultivate.

The most recent location at the center of the surf privatization debate is the Maldives, specifically the North Malé atoll. With already two of the best breaks in the region off limits to non-paying guests – Pasta Point and Lohifushi – steps are being taken by Singapore-based Telos Investment to develop a high-end surf resort on Thanburudhoo, which would result in the privatization of Honkies and Sultans. Of the remaining unrestricted waves in the North Malé atoll, these two are considered to be the most consistent, which is why many local surfers and guides are against the development project. In response to the proposed privatization of Sultans and Honkies, Maldivian surfers, tour guides, and charter boat operators have staged protests and created an online petition to stop surf exclusivity in the Maldives.

In a move that furthers the trend of exclusivity of North Malé’s surf breaks, Hudhuranfushi Resort has enlisted the services of World Surfaris as their official surf operations manager. The number of visiting surfers on the island will be limited to only 35 at a time between March and October. A major factor in the decision to set a surfer quota stems from perceived overcrowding at Lohi’s. “Surfer numbers visiting North Malé atoll and Hudhuranfushi Resort have considerably increased in recent years. The resulting influx has often left guests frustrated, to say the least, with a bad atmosphere in and out of the water. After all, who’d want to travel to this dream destination and have to share the line up with an excessive crowd?” said World Surfaris owner Shaun Levings in a press release.

In addition to crowded Maldivian lineups being motivation for visitor quotas and break exclusivity, there is also a serious issue with waste disposal in the atolls that may play a part. In a piece for Surf Europe, Tim Higson wrote, “With three-quarters of a million tourists visiting its tropical island chain every year, the Maldives’ struggle with severe waste disposal problems has been well documented. Management of the environment (on which islanders depend) is becoming a bigger challenge every year. Sustainable it is not. Imposing quotas on the number of visitors a year (each visitor generates 3.5kg of waste every day) would be a complicated route to take for the government – how do you decide who gets to go and who doesn’t? That’s where big bucks comes in, exclusivity deals and privatisation offering an easier and more workable solution.”

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So what does this all mean to the average surfer and where should we stand on the issue of surf break exclusivity and privatization? On the one hand, we have local surf populations and tourism industries that stand to suffer if only a handful of rich tourists are allowed to surf certain breaks. As a surfer, imagine being told that you weren’t allowed to surf at your local spot anymore because it was being reserved for out-of-towners. Doesn’t the entire premise of wave ownership go against surfing’s “Aloha spirit?”

On the other hand, there is a serious issue in the Maldives with environmental sustainability and waste management, which would presumably be improved by setting quotas on the number of visiting surfers and limiting access to certain breaks. There’s also the chance that additional revenue generated from increased exclusivity could be reinvested in ways that help protect the environment and boost the local economy.

What are your thoughts on the privatization of surf breaks in the Maldives and limiting the number of visiting surfers to certain spots?

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