"It has to be stopped," said Occy succinctly, talking with a small group of local Maldivian surfers. "They can't develop this place, it can't happen."
"Places like this, we need them, " reiterated Tom Curren. "They can't be closed to surfers, they can't be closed to anybody. How can you close the ocean?"
Former ASP world champions Martin Potter and Damien Hardman shared similar sentiments while participating in the recent Four Seasons event in the Maldives.
The situation on the ground, or the atoll, as the case may be, is that currently the Maldive's Ministry of Defense are in negotiations with an American development company, Telos Investment, to build a resort on the island of Thanburudhoo, home to two of the northern Maldives best waves; a right-hand point/reef called Sultan's Point and a left named Honkey's. The concern of the Maldive Surfing Association (MSA) is that the island's develop, which was once a training ground for the military, would in essence privatize the two prized breaks.
"There are approximately 100 surfers at Thamburudhoo each day, including surfers on safari boats, surf camps on local islands, tourists from nearby resorts, and locals," reads the MSA's impact report. "Currently there are four available surf breaks. If Thamburudhoo becomes exclusive that number is halved to two. The remaining two waves on Himmafushi and Thulusdhoo cannot cater to the escalated number of surfers."
"We do not have any intention of closing the surf breaks," said Minister of Defense and National Security Mohamed Nazim in a conversation aboard the Four Season's surf charter boat "The Explorer."
He added, "The deal may involve perhaps charging some kind of fee to use the breaks, but we do not want to close them completely. I know this because I am the one that is directly involved in putting it together."
The passionate local surfers, which Nazim pointed out, "may not be as informed about the details of the agreement as perhaps they could be," see it different. They see the government perhaps giving them one day a month to surf there. The surf charter boat companies see it as a direct threat to their livelihood. And competing resorts -- like the Four Seasons, which does not have a break of its own -- see it as a potential revenue killer.
But the problem in the Maldives right now runs much deeper than the potential loss of Thanburudhoo island. The fact is, "Already five of the best nine waves are exclusive, only resort guests can surf them," explained local Ahmed Hamdhan.
Siting the MSA's impact report, he added, "If this goes through that means there are only two waves open for everybody to surf. That means everybody who's not staying at a resort with an exclusive wave, and all of the local surfers are forced to these two breaks. Seven out of nine surf spots would be unsurfable."
"In Australia we have surfing reserves," interjected Occy. "The government recognizes our surf spots as valuable and worth protecting. Every surf spot should be open to whoever, how can you close the ocean to somebody? How can you do that?"
So I put it to Hamdhan, "What would happen if I paddled over to Pasta Point (a wave you can see from Thanburudhoo, but is closed to all surfers except resort guests)? What would happen?"
Hamdhan's response was telling: "They'd tell you to get out, to leave. And if you didn't maybe a police boat would come and get you."
"Could you be thrown in jail for surfing there?" I asked.
"Yeah, they might throw you in jail for a day or a week or something.""What would the difference be if somebody like me, an American tourist, paddled out in protest versus a local kid?" I followed, sadly aware of the answer before I even asked the question.
"Big difference. Nobody would pay attention to the locals, you might make some news. We feel like we have no voice. And that's all part of the problem. These are our islands, our home, our surf breaks, shouldn't we be able to surf here?"
Think about it for a second, to put it in California speak, if they closed seven out of nine breaks in a surf town like San Clemente it means no San Onofre, no Lowers, no Uppers, no Middles, no Cottons, no State Park, no T-Street. Or if you live in Santa Cruz, that means no Pleasure Point, no Harbor slabs, no Cowell's, no Steamer Lane, no Natural Bridges, no Four Mile, no Ano Nuevo. It's a wonder the locals in the Maldives aren't rioting already.
In 2010, the Fijian government, which has dealt with similar reef rights issues, decreed that all surf spots should be free and open to the public. Look no further than a pair of epic Cloudbreak sessions over the past two years to see the impact that this has had. Had the surf spots surrounding Tavarua Resort not been open to the public perhaps those sessions never would have happened. Bruce Irons, Nathan Fletcher, Kohl Christensen, and all of the other Billabong XXL contenders never would have had a shot. Instead it would have been under qualified resort guests quivering over Fiji Bitters in the pool.
And so once again, there's a surf community in danger, in need of help, a voice. It's a real danger, a real threat, and while the Minister of Defense insists the breaks off Thanburudhoo will not become privatized, it's probably time for the international community to mobilize and do what we do best, get vocal.
To see somebody like Occy so passionate, so dead set on finding a way to help is telling. To motor past Pasta Point on a five-foot day and tell Tom Curren and his son Patrick they can't go surf there together because they're not staying at that resort, that's just heartbreaking.