Apr 14

Maldives – Atoll Travel

When it comes to having an intimate knowledge of surfing the Maldives there’s only a select few who can trace their experiences back to before it became a tourist destination.

Atoll Travel’s Ian Lyon fits into that group, having been lucky enough to have become mates with the godfather of Maldives surfing Tony “Honky” Hussein Hinde in the years after 1973 when Hinde was shipwrecked, along with another Aussie surfer Mark Scanlon, on one of the nation’s atolls.

Tony opted to stick around and explore the region and found so many great waves to surf he chose to never leave. He became a Maldivian resident, converted to Islam and married the love of his life, Zulfa, in 1983.

The Honky’s surf break was named by Tony, along with a host of other popular breaks in the region such as Sultan’s, in respect to the history of the islands, Chickens, because of a chicken farm on the nearest island, and Colas, because of the Coca-Cola factory on another nearby island.

Ian got the naming rights on Jailbreak – based on the prison island that at those days was on the point of Himmafushi island where Tony lived.

“In the southern atolls, Tony named pretty much all those breaks,” Ian said. “I’ve still got his original treasure map in the filing cabinet down here.”

Ian said in those early days, the only way Tony could get around the atolls was to hitch a ride on a fishing boat or a supply boat. Nothing like the surf charter boats on offer these days.

He remembers a time in the early 80s when there were only about 10 surfers in on Tony’s secret waves in the Maldives and years of no crowds. It was also a time when most people believed there “were no waves in the Maldives”  – a rumour Tony and his friends had been keenly propagating to keep the location a secret for themselves.

When it became clear that the secret was out and tourism started to increase in the Maldives, Tony created Atoll Adventures (1989) and asked Ian to manage the bookings. Atoll Travel, based out of Victoria, was born at the hands of Ian and his wife Lynne soon after.

In 1991 Tony chose a little resort on Kanuoiy Huraa island in North Male Atoll to set up a land-based surf tour. While it was a little run down and needed some work, it had the big positive of having the best access to the consistent break of Pasta Point, a wave Tony continued to ride until 27 May 2008 when he sadly died surfing there was what’s been reported as an apparent heart attack.

And yep, in case you’re wondering, Pasta Point’s quirky name was related back to its island – the kitchen hands on the resort used to throw the unused pasta from the restaurant out onto the rocks at the surf point.

Now, in 2022, with the tour’s 30th birthday behind them, the Atoll team are gearing up to help Aussie and Kiwi surfers back into the Maldivian waters once again.

Ian said despite the challenges of COVID-19 around the world, the Maldivian government had done a very good job of protecting its tourism industry by targeting travellers from parts of the world where travel restrictions were a little easier to navigate than in Australia.

He said the nature of the small, individual islands, made it easier to isolate travellers from crowds and keep each resort, or island, COVID-free.

At Cinnamon Dhonveli (Pasta Point) resort, where Atoll holds the exclusive surf tour booking rights, Ian said the rooms had ticked over with surfers from Brazil, Israel, Russia, the United States and Europe who were able to land in Male with negative tests and transport directly to the resort and take advantage of being one of an exclusive number of surfers on the island with access to the famous Pasta Point surf break.

The maximum surfers booked with access to the Pasta Point wave at any time is 33.

“The season was ok for 2021, pretty good at Pasta Point – we were selling beds there well to other parts of the world,” Ian said.

“The phone hardly rang here (in Atoll Travel HQ in Victoria) for about two years though.

“Now, it’s turned around, particularly among the people who are annual visitors to Cinnamon. Forward bookings are looking pretty good,” he said.

The race will now be on for Kiwi and Aussie surfers to secure the bookings and dates they’d prefer for 2022, 2023 and beyond against a little extra competition from the surfers from further afield who have now discovered the joys of surfing the Maldives thanks to COVID’s travel rules.

One thing’s for sure, those who do secure a spot at Cinnamon Dhonveli, will be landing in style and with guaranteed access to some great surf breaks.

The four-star resort is the closest resort to Sultans (R), Honky’s (L) and Jailbreak (R) – all of which are within 10 minutes by boat.

The tour’s operations manager Dara Ahmed, who has more than 25 years’ experience, is in charge of a well-practiced team who work with walkie talkies and boats to ensure surfers staying at the island have quick access to the best breaks on any given day.

The first boat to Sultan’s leaves at 5.30am for those keen to be the first on the wave each day.

Being based on land, a stay at Cinnamon Dhonveli is perfect for surfers on their own, or with partners and children.

Flexible arrival and departure dates mean the length of stay can be adjusted to suit and fishing and snorkelling are available for the non-surfers too.

As for when to find the best waves, Ian said it was really in the lap of the gods, although it was generally accepted that the bigger surf season was March to October.

At Cinnamon they run surf tours all year round – even if the waves are a little smaller outside of the season, there’s still the pool, the Makana Restaurant, the waterside Raiyvilaa Bar or the Raalhu Bar overlooking the break at Pasta Point to be enjoyed until the weather gods smile.

And, just in case you’re thinking its just us who have fallen in love with the idea of a trip here, the Atoll Adventures Surf Tours have had plenty of attention from their peers in the travel world, notching up wins for Best Surf Resort in South Asia in 2016, 2017 & 2018; Best Surf Resort 2019 in the Maldives Travel Awards; and Best Maldives Surf Resort 2020 in the South Asian Travel Awards.

Best of all Atoll deliver peace of mind in these uncertain times providing credits or refunds for COVID caused cancellations.

Photos: Dara Ahmed Photography