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Maldives: Surf’s up

My eyes are watering and there's a peculiar burning taste in my mouth. Vodka... Wasabi... Mixed together? The cocktail detonates my taste buds but the American surf dudes don't bat an eyelid. Perhaps they've swallowed too much sea water to care — today they've travelled by boat and seaplane in search of the best waves in the region and they're still riding on a high.

Maldives: Surf’s up
Surfing, Maldives. Image: Four Seasons

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Yet they seem as out of place in their new surroundings as we do. Groups of girls and boys aren’t a common sight in the Maldives, whose foreign visitors tend to be couples and where the most common requests are for joint massages, tandem paraglides and romantic picnics on deserted islands.

But I’m here without my partner and my companions are a group of girls. We’re staying at the island-based Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa, to learn to surf. Hannah, our South African instructor, has her work cut out.

The next morning we head to the lagoon where she somehow manages to teach us the basics by launching us on what are barely three-inch waves. It’s not exactly Point Break but we’re happy to pretend it is.

Hannah teaches us how to paddle on our boards and demonstrates how to deftly pop up and balance. We learn how to steer, accelerate and break with our feet and how to use our arms for direction and balance. Some of us are ‘natural’ (left foot forward), others ‘goofy’ (right foot to the front). But none of us are natural-born surfers.

As we nosedive into the warm, clear ocean, the US pros pass us by on the jetty, sporting sunglasses and sleek boards tucked under their arms.

Today, they’re heading for the Sultans, where there’s always something to surf and the waves peel majestically in the 6ft range.

Surfing may not be as popular as diving here for tourists, but word is spreading fast. Australian surfer Tony Hinde is widely credited with popularising the sport in the Maldives, after his boat was shipwrecked here in 1973 en route to Africa from Sri Lanka. After surfing the Maldivian reefs he became hooked, married a local and opened his own surf agency.

But while it’s an affordable pastime for many locals with fishing boats, for tourists it’s one of the few places in the world where you have to pay to reach the surf.

While some luxury resorts offer excursions by seaplane or private speedboat, keen surfers with cash should book a seven-day Tropicsurf trip aboard the ubercool Four Seasons Explorer catamaran. Equipped with instructors, air-conditioned en suite cabins with flatscreen TVs and a chef who serves up gourmet food and fine wines every night, it’s billed as the world’s most luxurious surf safari.

The best waves are found between March and October, or in August, when an annual competition, Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, attracts some of the best surfers in the world. See them in action or join them for a few wasabi martinis at the bar. Both will blow your mind.