Meet Ahmed Rasheed (Dara), a well-known personality in the realm of surfing, serves as the Director and Surf Instructor at Atoll Adventures, a sustainable surfing tour firm operating in the Maldives. Referred to as the Oceanic Phoenix of the Maldives, Dara has devoted 27 years to mastering the art of riding waves and discovering the awe-inspiring surf locations across this idyllic haven. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Dara's remarkable journey as he reflects on his 'obsession' for the sport and reveal the top-notch surfing prospects available in the Maldives.
1. Can you tell us about your journey with Atoll Adventures and how you became involved in the surfing industry in the Maldives?
In June 1993, I encountered Tony. At that time, I had limited knowledge of surfing, despite having a few friends who were experienced in it. Tony had a small operation back then, and because of my connections to surfers, he sought my assistance in finding a surf guide for the upcoming season, which was expected to be busier than usual. Consequently, I aided him by arranging for one of my friends, who was both a diver and surfer, to fill the position. However, as the season approached, the arrangement fell through due to my friend receiving another diving job offer. Fortunately, by 1994, I had developed an interest in bodyboarding and had acquired the necessary skills. As a result, I offered to help Tony temporarily until he could secure another guide. This marked the beginning of my surfing journey and career. With a salary of 2000 MVR, I took on the role and haven't looked back since. Now, 29 years later, I find myself as one of the permanent directors, contributing to steering the company towards the future. Additionally, I hold accreditation as an ISA Surf Coach/Level 2 instructor and serve as the ISA's official course organizer and presenter in the Maldives.
2. As a Director and Surf Instructor for Atoll Adventures, what are your responsibilities and how do you ensure a sustainable surfing experience for visitors?
The core of my day involves constant communication with guests, surf guides, and boat crews. It's an engaging experience, as there's always someone to talk to about various aspects of our daily operations. This includes understanding the preferences and requirements of our clients, staying vigilant for any changes in surf conditions, and ensuring their needs are met. Additionally, I handle the organization of surf lessons for the resort's general tourists, keep our social media channels up to date, and maintain communication with our booking office.
To ensure a sustainable surf experience, we implement capacity restrictions and allocate specific numbers of passengers to different nearby surf breaks.
3. Could you share some insights into the history of surfing in the Maldives and the role played by Tony Hussein Hinde in popularizing the destination?
The inception of modern surfing in the Maldives can be traced back to late 1973 when Tony Hinde and his friend found themselves shipwrecked here. It was in early 1974 that Tony stumbled upon the surf breaks of North Male Atoll and made the decision to settle on Himmafushi village island, where he entrusted the secret of Maldives surf to a select group of friends. He introduced the locals of Himmafushi and Male to the world of surfing, which gradually grew to form a thriving local surfing community. This led to the emergence of many talented Maldivian surfers in both Male and the atolls.
Tony made his base at renowned surf spots such as Himmafushi Jails, Honky's, Sultans, and Pasta Point. Recognizing that the secret would eventually be revealed, he established Atoll Adventures in 1991, together with his Maldivian wife. This marked the first surf tour operation in the Maldives, initially based in Tari Village and now known as Cinnamon Dhonveli.
I had the fortunate opportunity to join Tony on his surf expeditions across the Maldives, searching for new surf spots. Some of these spots are now utilized for commercial purposes, while there are still a handful of untouched surf breaks waiting to be explored.
It was Tony Hussein Hinde who truly put the Maldives on the world map as a renowned surfing destination.
4. How has Atoll Adventures evolved over the years in terms of surf operations and guest services? What changes have you witnessed since the early days when you joined the company?
Since I joined in 1995, there has been a significant and rapid transformation. In the past, there were very few flights to the Maldives compared to the present day. For surfers, the journey was lengthy, and there were limited international connections in this sector. Additionally, there were no sea planes or speed boats available locally, and domestic travel was not well-established. Transporting surfboards to the resort and outer islands where we conducted charters was quite challenging. It required a three-day sail to reach Gaafu Dhaalu, followed by another three-day journey back. Despite the actual sailing time being two days, we allowed an extra day as a precautionary measure for both trips. Moreover, the harbors were unsafe during stormy weather, necessitating everyone to remain vigilant in order to protect the boat. Even reaching Dhonveli (then known as Tari Village) took two and a half hours on an engine Dhoni. Nowadays, with the use of speed boats, guests and their boards can reach Dhonveli in less than 15 minutes. Additionally, the flight time to Gaafu Dhaalu is just one hour, allowing us to be in the surf together within one and a half hours.
5. With the advancement of technology, how has it influenced the surf operations at Atoll Adventures? How do you leverage modern-day technologies to enhance the surfing experience for your guests?
Thanks to advanced technology, the difference between then and now is like night and day. In the past, we lacked any means of communication such as mobile phones, internet, or computers. Our operations were entirely manual. We would gather the group of guests and provide a briefing about surfing, safety measures, timings, and the duration they could spend in the water. The Surf Guide would accompany them to the surf location and remain there throughout the session. Everyone would return together once everyone had finished surfing. To ensure safety, we relied on three different colored flags, even for assessing wind conditions using flags and a compass. If someone got injured, a red flag would be raised on the mast, and we would dispatch another Dhoni to bring the injured guest back.
Nowadays, we have the convenience of walkie-talkies and mobile phones. We obtain surf and weather forecasts from multiple websites, enabling us to anticipate storms, wind patterns, and swell directions in advance. We employ speed boats and a rescue jet ski for emergencies. Furthermore, all our surf guides are certified under the International Surfing Association for surf rescue and life-saving procedures. Additionally, the resort now has an in-house doctor. We are now capable of mobilizing emergency rescue plans within seconds.
We can analyze forecasts, determine the most favorable wind and surf conditions, and guide our guests to maximize their surfing experiences during their trips.
6. The philosophy of Atoll Adventures is to not overcrowd the waves. How do you manage the number of surfers at Pasta Point to maintain a sustainable experience? Can you provide some insights into the strategies you employ?
In order to provide our guests with the best sustainable surfing experience, we have implemented a daily cap of 33 surfers across our entire operation, which is the lowest cap compared to any other surf operation. We maintain constant surveillance of the surf breaks from sunrise to sunset. However, the 33-person limit is not allocated to a single surf break; instead, we restrict the number of surfers to 8-10 per break. This approach ensures that our line-up is never overcrowded and guarantees an enjoyable experience for all our clients.
To ensure smooth distribution of our guest numbers, we have a dedicated boat service consisting of multiple Dhonis and a speed boat that is specifically designed for surf transportation. Clients can request these boats at any time without prior booking. We firmly believe that by keeping our capacity small, it becomes easier to manage and maintain high-quality surfing experiences for our guests. I would like to highlight that the success of Atoll Adventures is its entire team. We will not be where we are without our teamwork.
7. What are some unique features or qualities of Pasta Point that make it a popular destination among surfers?
Pasta Point, being the closest break to the International Airport, has gained popularity among surfers due to its unique features and qualities. One of its key advantages is the convenience of reaching the break within a mere 20-minute speedboat ride.
Another appealing aspect is the flexibility it offers in terms of arrival and departure days, accommodating the varied schedules of surfers. This flexibility sets Pasta Point apart from other destinations.
Moreover, Pasta Point boasts the distinction of being the most consistent surf break in the region, making it the go-to spot when the swell is small. Surfers can rely on reliable and consistent surf conditions throughout the year.
Furthermore, Pasta Point prides itself on being the first ISA certified Surf Operator. All instructors are ISA certified, ensuring top-notch instruction and guidance for surfers.
In addition to its exceptional qualities, Pasta Point enjoys a strategic location in close proximity to other prime surf breaks such as Sultan's, Honky's, and Jailbreaks, all of which can be reached within a short 10-minute distance from the break.
For those moments when surfing is not possible, Pasta Point offers additional activities like fishing, snorkeling, and yoga, free of charge, providing options for non-surfers who may be accompanying surfing clients.
Lastly, Pasta Point is operated by Atoll Adventures, a company dedicated to employing local staff, showcasing their commitment to the local community and culture. We are proud to say that Pasta Point has one of the largest repeater client-base in Maldives. We operate on an 85% persons repeater clientele.
8. Could you share a memorable experience or story from your time working with Tony Hussein Hinde? How has his legacy shaped the values and culture of Atoll Adventures?
I had the privilege of working alongside him for 14 years, and I consider myself incredibly fortunate. He served as my mentor, and the memories I have of our time together are indescribable. Not only was he one of the kindest individuals, but he also proved to be one of the most approachable employers. He was more than just a boss to me; he was a friend and a brother. His passion for surfing was evident as he effortlessly rode Boogie boards, surf boards, short boards, and long boards. Despite his accomplishments, he remained grounded and down to earth. In fact, he seemed more connected to the Maldivian culture than his Australian roots. His influence extended beyond Atoll Adventures; he played a pivotal role in shaping the modern surfing scene in the Maldives. Tony Hussein Hinde's final wave was ridden at Pasta Point, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that continues to thrive and bring joy while significantly contributing to the nation's economy. His absence is deeply felt, but his memory will always be cherished.
9. As the most experienced Surf Operations Manager in the Maldives, what advice would you give to aspiring Maldivians seeking a career in the surfing industry? What skills or qualities are essential for success in this field?
Commitment is crucial in whatever endeavor you undertake. The presence of discipline and strong work ethics cannot be overstated. Each person has the same 24 hours in a day, so it is important to prioritize a healthy routine by sleeping early, waking up early, and engaging in stretching exercises before heading out to surf. This early morning session is often the most enjoyable part of the day.
During your youth, it is beneficial to dedicate long hours to your work. This investment will yield rewards as you grow older. It is essential to discover a job that you are passionate about. After all, work comprises a significant portion of your life, and true satisfaction can only be achieved by loving what you do. Continuously explore different opportunities until you find something that genuinely brings you fulfillment. Once you encounter it, you will instinctively know.
10. How does Atoll Adventures contribute to the local community and the surf community in the Maldives? Can you tell us about any initiatives or projects aimed at supporting the development of surfing and benefiting the island nation?
From the very beginning, Atoll Adventures has been dedicated to supporting the local surf community. During the initial stages, surf-related equipment was scarce in the Maldives, and importing it was not feasible. Therefore, we took the initiative to provide all the necessary equipment, including surf boards, leg ropes, wax, and more, for many years. In 1996, we organized the first invitational surfing competition in the Maldives and extended invitations to all local surfers. The aim was to familiarize them with the competition structure and judging criteria, allowing them to gain valuable experience. Furthermore, we have been consistent sponsors of almost all surfing competitions held in the Maldives, serving as either the main sponsor or co-sponsor to this day.
As part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, Atoll Adventures allocates over MVR500,000 annually to support the local surf community. This support includes funding international travel and covering travel expenses for competitions held both domestically and abroad. Additionally, we conduct surf instructor courses in Male and nearby islands, offering internationally recognized certifications such as the International Surfing instructor course and water safety courses in affiliation with the International Surfing Association.
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