Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, August 2021

Day 3, a relaxing lay day

Single fins at Sultans

“Morning Gentlemen, another tough day of competition,” quips Nat Young, passing the judges’ table in what he calls the ‘croissant parade’ between the lavish spread of breakfast fare and the tables where the competitors eat, overlooking the lagoon. Well, most of them. Occy is absent along with Josh Constable. Word has it they’re surfing.

On the beach ouside, contest director Ross Phillips pulls up on a ski. The report from the lineup is not good; windy, small and cloudy. It’s supposed to improve so the call is delayed. The croissant parade makes another lap.

Three cups of coffee and several thousand calories later, things are looking up.The boats have swung on their moorings, and the cloud is beginning to burn off. Much like Indo, the Maldives seem to be suffer a bit of morning sickness. Not that anyone’s complaining. It all works well with the event’s gentleman’s-hours run sheet.

As the ten o’clock departure nears, Nat rocks up later at the dock sporting a golf-balled single-fin straight from the ‘70s. Mark Richards looks it over it with Damien Hardman. Layne arrives with a good-looking marbled single fin she’s borrowed for the event. Occy strolls down the jetty with a new JS under his wing.
“That looks like a mini-mal,” laughs Layne.
“She’s trying to psyche you,” warns MR.
Josh Constable arrives late, racing down the jetty to jump on the boat, and we’re away.

At the end of the Island, the Explorer is moored in the pass just off the comp site at Sultans. Tenders and jetskis ferry competitors and spectators around as the Foo Fighters blast from the commentary boat nearby. 

Across the channel Pasta Point is off limits to all but guess at the land-camp, but Sultans is usually freely accessible. The Maldivian government has granted exclusive access for this competition but given the immoderate cost of surfing in this part of the world, exactly how surfers might respond to being ousted from the Atoll’s swell magnet was a topic of conversation at dinner last night. The Military, stationed on a nearby Island, have volunteered the use of a gunboat to assist, but their services are not required as the small crown retires to watch the three hours of competition, or drift around the island to surf Honkies. 

The current running through the pass creates a few problems mooring in the swell, so our boat pulls up and waits for a rubber-ducky to complete the transfer.
The vibe aboard is getting serious. The modified individual heat-times (calculated by halving each competitor’s age) and judging criteria (to account for differing boards) have raised a few questions with the surfers. Occy grills contest organisers about priority and campaigns for more heat-time. Layne has already jumped ship and is halfway out to the lineup.

Damien Hardman quietly contemplates his single-fin. Of all the competitor’s boards his is the least far-removed from a standard shortboard. But the shortage of fins on this model - picked it up off a mate several days ago – is not doing it for him. “It really makes you realise how good thrusters are,” he says.

Aboard the Explorer Nat young holds court. The oldest surfer in the event, he’s got the luxury of time, but as he pulls on a wetsuit – required as he recently broken rib snow-boarding – it’s clear he’s won’t be pulling any punches.
“I’m 64, so I get 32 minutes - Josh doesn’t get much time in the water at all … he’ll have to make the most of it.”

Aware of the perils of youth in this contest, Josh is busy stretching regime, sandwiched on the floor between a throng of guests and media and enormous luncheon spread.

Layne returns from her warmup surf. “It’s soft and playful out there, but I think the backhand surfers have an advantage.

Downstairs, Occy stays out of the spotlight stretches next to an armed guard. 

Buoyed by the Billabong team on the boat, there’s plenty of girlpower going down in the competitor’s area. Layne’s up against Occy and Nat in the first heat 
“Right, you old boys,” she declares, boarding the tender to the lineup, “here comes an old chick!.
Several minutes later she’s found one of the better waves of the day, and soon secures a place in the semi along with Occy, who’s trademark backhand attack seems unfazed by the removal of two thirds of his fin system.

Dooma is less impressed. “It’s like surfing with a bucket behind your board,” he reports after his first round. However, with the swell dropping, it’s lack of waves rather than fins that is his undoing in his semi-final against Beachley, who is greeted with high-fives from the girls’ gallery back aboard.

The second semi sees Occy face off against Josh Constable. With varying heat-times the surfer with the longest handicap heads out first. As the Raging Bull waits for a set, Josh Constable waxes up Mark Richards’ board. He’s managed to convince MR to lend him after defeating him in their first round clash.
It’s a good move. He opens up his heat with a great wave right down the point. but short on time and waves a narrowly missed a set late in the heat, leaves Occy to claim the wave and the heat.

Occy and Layne are left to battle it out in the dying swell. At the start of the day, Layne had said she thought conditions would favour surfers on their backhand, and the prophesy came true in the final, as the Raging Bull’s mechanical run of backhand blasts left her needing a 9.57 when siren sounded.

It’s his first win since since the 2001 OP Pro in the Mentawai Islands. He’s hoping it won’t be his last in the Maldives.
“I’m ecstatic right now and feel primed to take out the entire event”, said Occy at the media conference.

That he’s was spotted putting in some training on a paddleboard out in the lagoon (a craft not even in the event) after his win, might be a good barometer of how seriously he’s taking that statement.

Sunset drinks round out the day. Oversized cheques are presented, a local drumming troupe busts out some beats, enticing the Billabong girls out onto the dance floor while the surfers enjoy a few beverages with hotel guests and staff, after the day’s competition. It’s not a bad place, the Maldives.

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