Run to Paradise
Words and Photos: Tommy Dawson
The blaring of my alarm clock whips me out of bed. I awake my still slumbering girlfriend, Sarah, and start shoveling our gear into the back of the Yaris. We’ve got hours up our sleeves but I’m pumped to get outta here. Probably time to give a bit of background into this.
I’ve been working in the surf industry for just under 20 years. Done everything. Store grommet, tail pad renderer for Gorilla Grip, a failed entrepreneurial attempt, photo editor for Surfing Life mag and worked the Volcom, Nixon, Burton and FCS warehouses. I’ve shared time with some big companies in this industry and not to kiss ass (well, maybe a little) but none have been so technologically progressive, futuristically idealistic and staff oriented as SurfStitch.com. An amazing array of people call this company home. I’m lucky enough to count myself as one of them. SurfStitch is the reason I’m sitting here tapping away in our two storey villa, on the beach at Chaaya Island Resort, Dhonveli, the Maldives.
I’ve been with SurfStitch for about 18 months now, and about 15 months ago, an internal newsletter started circulating. Having worked in publishing and fancying myself as a bit of a scribe, I thought I’d get to work on a double page editorial based around the day-to-day goings on in the Warehouse. The piece is named ‘Tin Shed Ramblings’. We’re an interesting, focused and good looking bunch in the warehouse, so a few hundred words once a month seemed an easy enough space to fill.
I’m a lucky man in life, but not usually in the ‘winning competitions’ sense of the word. So you can imagine the gobsmackish surprise on my dial when eight months later, yours truly was the lucky bunny who was drawn out of the hat at the SurfStitch Christmas party as the winner of a lavish trip to the Maldives!
Unfortunately (as SurfStitch throw solid events), I wasn’t even in attendance for the staff Chrissy party. I was 1000km away in the semi-rural country town of Bowral in Southern New South Wales, in attendance of Sarah’s sister’s wedding. The news was delivered to me by an overly excited Justin Cameron (SurfStitich Co-founder with Lex Pedersen) over the phone. Of course I didn’t believe him as I stammered out a “Yeah right, bullshit, who really won Jus??” down the phone line. With much attempted convincing from him and with the phone being handed around to various partaé attendees, I was coming to terms with the news that I had actually bagged an all expenses trip for two to the Maldives! I bellowed an ecstatic hoot, yelled a big “F!%* Yeah, thanks so much mate. Thanks soooo much!!” to Justin and raced outside to find my girl amongst the wedding guests. A sea of shocked faces greeted me as I giddily informed Sarah that we had won the trip. We’d won the bloody trip!!
It was a wild experience flying into HulHule for the first time, even more so at 10pm. Your aircraft navigates through a scape of darkness. No sky, no water, just black out the window. The captain prepares his crew for landing. Then you wait. There is nothing to gauge your altitude by. No landmarks. Then, what seems like little galaxies appear on a black background. Specks in the distance. As the aircraft approaches, these specks become islands. Dancing in light against the inky black surrounds. Technolocolour buildings, waterfront pools and surrounding fringe reefs. My mind immediately flashes back to childhood stories of NeverNever land and the isles of Captain Hook. This place is a real life fairy tale.
Gradually you descend, closer and closer. Then, an airstrip out of nowhere. The island of Hulhule is exclusively the airport island. Everyone leaves by boat to get to their next destination. The Havana inspired buildings of Malé flash across the channel. It’s busier than I expected, then again, I had no idea what to expect.
We cruise through customs (no alcohol, no firearms, no Cleo mags??) and are greeted by our surf guide and all round legend, Mike. He leads us to our speedboat and we’re introduced to a couple of forty somethings who are back for their fifth time. They excitedly natter between themselves about the prospect of another hit of paradise. Sarah and I are happy just to sit back and take it all in after nearly 24hours of travel.
The driver hits full throttle, powers through the channels and out to sea. He’s gunning it. There’s a melee of other craft on the water and not many are running cruising lights. No matter, he knows the way here and we pump out into the open Indian Ocean. It’s a crazy experience. Millions of stars all the way to the horizon. Pitch black to the right, lit up islands to the left. We motor on into the night and 25 minutes later arrive at the Chaaya Island Resort, Dhonveli.
No need for a blow dryer. Speedboat heads ahoy.
Friendly crew check us in. We’re greeted with fresh tropical juice and are led to our Garden Bungalow. White sand crunches underfoot as we follow our guide around the resort. Soft orange overhead lights play off the palm trees and dapple the pathway.
Our guide leads us to our Villa. Holy shit. Our Villa! We’re absolute waterfront. Waves lap at the retaining wall in front of our bungalow. Our lower floor balcony leads onto the sand and our upstairs bedroom opens up onto a second balcony overlooking the ocean. It’s idyllic. It’s paradise. It’s nirvana. And we haven’t even seen it in daylight yet.
Although vowing to sleep in to at least 8am after 24 hours in transit, the waves are beckoning, and the thought of surfing our resorts private wave is too strong to keep me in bed. I smack a kiss on Sarah’s forehead and go take a peek at what this wave has to offer.
The view that greets us on our first morning.
Pasta Point turns out to be all it is talked up to be. The word ‘mechanical’ is bandied about way to often when describing waves. But f*&! me, this is the definition. Swell initially hits a little further around the point. A 100 metre section that closes out, then about another 100 or so of a too quick to handle section. As it hits Pasta, it slows down, and just meanders its way along for 200 metres or so. The next wave in the set hits. Exactly the same, and so on and so forth throughout all tides and wind conditions. Ridiculously fun and offering whack-able section after whack-able section with a tight almond shaped barrel thrown in if you’re lucky.
Pasta Point in all its al denté perfection.
After talking to Mike who guarantees it’ll be even better around 10am, I decide to hold off until a little later and go get my boards prepped. New FCS TC AquaLines are screwed in and a silky new coat of Sex Wax is lovingly applied to my gorgeous Matt Penn. Modom leggy firmly attached and ready to go. A tad amped I am.
Sarah is up and brewing coffee. After downing it, I have a new addiction. It is called “Coffee-mate”. Powdered milk. Never had it before but it is good. I am hooked. It is subtle against the strong coffee. I am going to start importing it. After three coffees I’m getting edgy and need food. We head to breakfast.
Breakfast is gangbusters. We are seated at our table for the week in a beautiful palm thatched restaurant overlooking the Point. Ceiling fans whir high above as our waiter for the week, Moosa, busies himself setting down water and juices. Making sure everything is just so. He is all smiles and stands about 4’7″. I like this bloke immediately.
The food is buffet style. Maldivian curries with steaming rice, fresh fruit sides, juices and homemade yogurt. Or, if you prefer, bacon and eggs, hash browns, baked beans, toast and cereals. Or if you want, all of it. We settle for fresh fruit and juice after our in-transit gorging of airline food and Hard Rock Cafe burgers. It is hard to concentrate on food, or Sarah, as I mind surf the spiraling walls of Pasta Point, just metres away. Yum-o.
Room with a view. Mealtimes can be a little distracting.
After breakfast we head back to our digs and grab our snorkeling gear. The other side of the island (only a three minute stroll) is mentioned to be the goods. We follow the palm fronded path and enter the most crystalline beach we have ever laid eyes on. Words can’t describe the myriad of blues that await us. Some patches almost white, the lightest of aqua, deeper cerulean pools dot the seascape shading all the way through to the deep blues beyond the lagoon.
Holy wow. Did someone say paradise?
We don our masks and fins and wade into the shallows. The water is around 30 degrees Celsius, a little above air temp. Although only waist deep to begin with, the abundance of sea life is astounding. Tropical fish of all shapes, sizes and colors dart around us in a rainbow of scales.
“I can speak Whaaaaalllle”. If you haven’t seen Finding Nemo, this caption is redundant.
Sand covered stingrays lie still in wait for their pray in the white sand. The aqua marine water is unfathomably clear and the light plays gently all the way to the sea floor. A hastily purchased Lumix water camera from Changi airport becomes our new best mate. Photos are fired at a machine gun rate and memories are made. After marveling in this sub surface playground for an hour we return to the shallows to bake off the salt under a beach front cabana.
You know the crazy thing about this is? It’s only 10am and I feel like I’ve had a week of living. Time to go surfing methinks.
Mike runs me through where to rock off (it has steps leading down to it and is only a quick hop across the flat rock into the channel. Burleigh Point this ain’t), and where to line up for take off; “See the flagpole? Sit just behind that. That’s where you wanna be”. Done. Out there.
Stairway to heaven.
The (lack of) crowd is mellow. Mostly older blokes. The vibe is cruisy. “Yours mate!” “Nah yours mate, take it!”. Most of the line-up are Aussies, Yanks and Frenchman who have been coming here for years. No one seems to mind that $16 million has been poured into infrastructure. It hasn’t changed the crowds, accommodation is better. A little swankier. Happy days.
Waves don’t come in sets as we know them. More as pulses. It may be flat for 10 minutes, then there’ll be 15 minutes of waves. Everyone hoots and yips each other into the better ones. I’m pleasantly surprised to be offered a nice three footer that is already starting to rifle off down the reef.
Yours truly tucking into my first wave on the first day at Pasta. Happy happy joy.
The take off is playful. A little kick off the bottom and the lip looks right back at you, readily awaiting a smack of fins. Four turns a wave is about average, some blokes throwing seven or eight, and ending with a nice section to throw a big hook to finish off. The old blokes are putting on a clinic. You can see they’ve put in the hours.
Bucket hats on the dome, throwing buckets of foam. The old boys rip.
After a couple of hours having probably one of the funner sessions of my life, I head in through the micro-channel, line up the stairs, hit the rock off running and scamper up the aforementioned stairs. Simple. Easy. I f!&*ing love this place!
Lunch is the same as breakfast but exchange the fruit and cereals for a whole other myriad of amazing grub. Morning juice is replaced by a beer or soft drink and salty faces discuss the various morning sessions. Some crew have been hitting other nearby breaks, all accessible for free via Dhoni (traditional motor boat) from the resort pier. Tides and conditions are exchanged and plans made for the afternoon.
I’ve been eyeing of Sultans. A fast, inviting looking right, divided into two sections with a lush background. I count about six blokes out and another Dhoni heading that way. Nine blokes out in perfect conditions sounds like every Gold Coasters dream but with Pastas still doing its thing, it’s really hard to say no.
The arvo session is much like the morning. Good crew, pumping waves and fair, offshore winds. It gets a wobble in it around 2pm from the shifting currents so I have my fair share and head on in. The afternoon is filled with a lap around the island on foot and another magical snorkel in the lagoon. Sarah and I are sunkissed, salty and blissfully happy.
Sarah shows off her mermaid skills in the lagoon. Blue as blue can be…
A few sundowners at the aptly named Sunset bar (obligatory sunset snaps snapped) conclude the day. Dinner at our table is accompanied by a bottle of South African Sauv Blanc as a couple of local lads set the mood with perfect renditions of 80s and 90s rock. Surfing with the Alien by Satriani is a highlight.
Sunset Bar. A cliché a day keeps the writers at bay.
I make plans with one of the blokes I was surfing with to go hit Sultans in the morning and to meet at the dock at 6am. Sarah and I are knackered. We’re ready for bed.
I’m up before my alarm, psyched to hit up Sultans. The waves are assessed across the bay and it looks the goods. A coffee is guzzled on the balcony and I jog down the track. We meet at the dock as planned. There’s three of us plus our guide Madé. The wind is light and the waves look über fun. The Dhoni putts across the pass and within ten minutes we are dropped off behind the break. Made points out two palm trees standing above the jungle foliage as the line up markers.
The take-off couldn’t be more idyllically marked.
A set rolls in and I’m in position for it. Made calls me in, even though he has the inside. It’s a slightly quicker take off than Pasta with a long wall running down the reef. A few pumps around the first section and beautifully groomed canvas presents itself. A quick slice off the top, a lil floater across the next section and a roundhouse to close off as the wave expels itself into the channel. I’ve got smiles for days and ready for more.
Sultans. A natural footers wet dream.
As I paddle back out, Made drops late into the last wave of the set. He fades a little, weights up the back foot, cranks off the bottom and blasts the lip off the first section. The man can surf. As he kicks out, he’s wearing the same grin I am. Obviously the novelty doesn’t wear off.
The four of us kick around, sharing waves, shooting the breeze for a half hour or so. Before long a charter boat turns up. We’re joined by three others, then six, then nine, then twelve. The pack is now all about hassling for waves and jostling for position. I know, I can sense your mutterings. Only 15 guys out in perfect waves. What’s the problem? The problem is that Pasta is running clean across the bay with no-one on it. We jump the Dhoni and head back.
An empty Pasta Point reeler beckons us back from a semi-crowded Sultans.
From here on in, we live in a groundhog day. The waves are fun and clean. The food remains amazing. The snorkeling is top notch and the cocktails ever so tasty. I won’t bore you with any more day-to-days. Just a lil summary of the finer things that are dished up daily in Dhonveli.