Sharing The Stoke, One Wave At A Time

29 Aug 2017 3

COASTALWATCH | 2017 FOUR SEASONS SURFING CHAMPIONS TROPHY

Interview by Hugh Wyllie

What happens when you stick six World Champions in a five star resort and score flawless coral drainers for a week straight? You get competitive surfing at it’s most sumptuous. Seven years later, the formula holds true for The Four Seasons Surfing Champions Trophy, thanks in no small measure to the event organisers from Tropicsurf who went to new lengths this year to host their six invitees: Taj Burrow, CJ Hobgood, Ross Williams, Rob Machado, Maya Gabeira and the Maldives very own Kuda Issaey. The result speaks for itself: more pits, more fans, more clips, more noodle armed pro surfers. But who exactly are Tropicsurf? I sat down with founder Ross Phillips to find out… 

CW: Ok Ross, what’s it all about?
RP: We’re a surf tour operator, who specialise in luxury surf guide and coaching services. We run tours from 29 surfing destinations worldwide. Some are based in resorts like the Four Seasons here at Huda Kuraa, others are based out of land camps or charter boats. We service most surfing regions, with waves to match all skill levels, and the facilities to help our guests improve their skills at an accelerated pace during their stay. We’ve been doing this for over 25 years.

But why the Champions Trophy?
We really wanted to show people how good the waves are here at Sultans, and what the Huda Kuraa has to offer as a holiday destination. The waves are epic, there's sealife in abundance, reef sharks, fish, manta rays, and whale sharks that you will see on diving trips, or even just from the boat. The resort facilities are second to none, and everyone raves about the food. The big reward is to see people go home stoked. Sharing that feeling is what it's all about.

What can you tell us about the wave at Sultans?
It barrels, it offers two distinct peaks, there are racy sections, and bowls to hook into. It caters to many different styles and levels of surfing. You wouldn’t say it’s a heavy wave, but it packs just the right amount of punch on its day. It’s super rippable for the advanced riders, and a great challenge for crew just starting out.

Left or right? The choice is yours! (Sean Scott)

Left or right? The choice is yours! (Sean Scott)

Must be a good feeling to see what the pros are capable of at this wave?
It’s a dream come true, it’s so much fun to catch up with guys like Taj and Rob who were here last year, and welcome new faces like Ross, CJ and Maya. We’ve been really lucky with getting this event off the ground, and it's doing good things for local tourism.

How does tourism fit into the local way of living here in the Maldives?
Tourism has been well established since the 80’s. Now it’s is the main source of income for many local families, and provides people with infrastructure that simply wasn’t available before.

What’s an example of that?
Clean drinking water would be the most obvious one. Many of the islands were running off well water before tourism really took off. Resort guests are welcome to visit the local island across the channel and checkout the local village. Many of the staff members and their families live there. It’s a very traditional way of living, and you can see how something as simple as clean drinking water makes a positive impact on their lives.

Ross welcomes Kuda, Ross, Maya, CJ, Rob and Taj to the island. (Sean Scott)

Ross welcomes Kuda, Ross, Maya, CJ, Rob and Taj to the island. (Sean Scott)

I read that tourism is the biggest industry here in the Maldives, followed by fishing. Do you think tourism could ever spiral out of hand like it has in Bali?
I think the style of tourism here is very different to other holiday destinations. You see more corporate retreats, and companies booking out cruisers and resorts. Then there’s individuals who are just keen to get away and find some waves to themselves, or couples on vacation or honeymoon. That’s the vibe here. It’s less loud, more in tune with what’s going on around it.

What about crowds in the lineup?
For sure that’s a big concern for me as a surfer. We tread as lightly as possible in our work. In regards to the contest, Sultans has been well documented since the 90’s, it’s across the channel from Pasta Point, another world class break that has hosted WQS events. So it’s nothing new to see pro surfers ride these waves. However, we’re not about to go blowing out other waves in the area, because we want people to discover them for themselves, that’s the best part about surf travel.

Do secret spots still exist in the Maldives?
All I will say is we know where to go. If someone wants to do a trip off the beaten path we can help.

Maya Gabeira. (Sean Scott)

Maya Gabeira. (Sean Scott)

How did you end up in the Maldives to begin with?
Before Tropicsurf I was working as a surf coach back home in Noosa. I had just finished my physiotherapy degree. And I worked with this one family in particular, who used to fly back every summer with their two kids, and I would coach them. Long story short, the parents were looking for a surfing holiday overseas, and asked me for some advice. The Maldives was my first suggestion.

Had you been to the Maldives before?
No, never. But I’d done my homework on the islands, where to go, what waves were found in certain areas, accessibility, the conditions we were looking for, that type of thing. So they hired me as their guide and surf coach, and it was one of the best experiences of my life! I’d say theirs too, we had really fun surf, and it was great to see these kids push themselves on reef breaks. This was before any of the hotels really offered this type of service.

What’s your golden rule for teaching beginners?
It’s interesting because I think the same rules apply to all levels of surfing. I’ve written manuals on surfing movements and posture, and have always been a firm believer that simplicity is key. To break it down, I have three simple rules that apply to surfers of all skill levels. 1) Less is more. 2) Economy of motion. 3) Minimal excessive body movement. I think doing less is something that can be learned quickly and it can help the rider become a more stylish surfer. For me, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It’s all about helping the surfer improve faster, and that means riding the right equipment, finding the right break that matches your ability and working on technique. It’s like anything, it’s a much slower progression to fly blind and teach yourself a new skill than to be given the right advice from an experienced eye. What we do is at ground level. It’s more personal for sure, and more interactive. And maybe more rewarding for the surfer, but that’s up to the individual to decide.    

Bungalow dreamin' (Sean Scott)

Bungalow dreamin' (Sean Scott)

Was there a pivotal moment where you decided to turn this into a career?
Yep, I had that moment in 1993. I was 24, coaching this group of up and coming 12 year old groms. We had this massive day at Forrester’s beach on the Central Coast. 10 foot bombs. And it took a bit of coaxing but we got out there, and by the end of the session these kids were charging! That was a really special feeling, to share that energy with other people. A month later I was in Hawaii on a holiday by myself. I probably surfed the biggest and best waves of my life at Sunset Beach. But to be honest it felt a little bit hollow.


Because you were surfing alone?
Yeah and it was all about me. It made me realise that I get more of a kick out of surfing with other people. It’s a good feeling to share the experience.


What’s one of your best memories of surfing in the Maldives?
20 years ago I was on a boat in the Maldives and Issaey came along. We had a Maldivian guide and he said “I want to bring this kid along.” When I met Issaey, he was super shy, and still is actually. But you could see he had talent. The next year I brought over a brand new Chris Garrett shape for him, and he didn’t know me very well at the time, but I just wanted to do the right thing. Here he is 20 years later at our event, sponsored, 3 times national champion. And it’s nice to know that the board helped him out in some small way. That made my whole week. I hadn’t connected with the guy in a longtime, he gave me a big hug, and that was pretty special. 

Those leg ups make a world of difference hey…
That’s what I’ve found over here. We went to an island down south and I got all the local kids out on a boat and we held a coaching clinic on the boat. We setup some blackboards and magazines and gave them a surf training manual. And it didn’t seem like a big thing to me, but 15 years later they’re still thanking me, you know? When you’re on those islands you don’t have a whole lot of opportunity. It doesn’t take much to impact peoples lives in a good way.

I’ve seen a few locals ripping. Is this the island’s next surfing generation?
I’ve tried to help where I can, but I don’t want to interfere. But we do say to the government officials that the Maldives should be at the ISA games. Switzerland’s there, Germany is there but not the Maldives. And at the Olympics too. It’s a way to put their country on the map, because this is one of the best surfing nations in the world and they should have representation. It would be so great for their national identity and to give people a sense of pride about where they’ve come from.

It’s aspirational, isn’t it?
Exactly. 

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