Maldives Surfing Association - Advocates for a Sustainable & Unified Maldives’ Surfing Community

Surfing as a sport in the Maldives emerged in the late '90s and early 2000s. It is often said that Tony Hussain was credited with discovering the potential of surfing in the Maldives, but surfing was a sport that has been a part of Maldivian culture for as long as the country has existed. Even before tourism, surfing culture was prevalent, as seen in local island communities back in the days. 
The Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) is the National Governing Body for surfing in the Maldives with a vision to build a unified surfing community throughout the nation that works together towards the development and betterment of the surfers and the sport of surfing. We sat down with Shabeen and Shahid from MSA to discuss the vital role they play in promoting surfing as a sport and a culture in the Maldives. 
1. How was MSA founded, and what impact do you think you have had on the surfing community of the Maldives?
Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) was founded by the year 2000 by the founding members Mohamed Sobah, Hussain Salah, and Mohamed Waheeduddeen, with support from the local surfing community. It was their shared passion for surfing and vision to promote it as a sport in Maldives led to the association’s formation. It wasn’t an easy task- it took about three months to convince the Maldives government that surfing was a legitimate sport already gaining popularity worldwide. 
Over the years, MSA has played a crucial role in developing surfing in the Maldives. The association’s efforts have led to the widespread acceptance of surfing by the local community, viewing it not only as a sport but also as a healthy lifestyle and a viable means of making a living. MSA’s newly organised development programmes have not only produced skilled surfing athletes but have also created opportunities for individuals interested in non-competitive, technical professional roles within the surfing industry. The impact of MSA’s work extends to the tourism industry too, attracting surfers from around the world to  experience the thrill of surfing in the Maldives, playing a role in the economic prosperity of the nation. 
Beyond the sport’s development, MSA has actively worked on the environmental front. MSA has raised awareness to protect surf breaks and the ecosystem, emphasising the importance of preserving the natural environment associated with surfing.
2. In what ways does the MSA collaborate with local communities, surfers, and stakeholders to ensure sustainable and responsible development of the surfing industry in the Maldives?
We collaborate with local communities, surfers, and stakeholders, focusing on sustainable development and preserving the unique surfing culture. Councils, the island community and the guesthouses will be involved in organising each event. In each island, the culture is different. In Meemu Muli, the rahvehin (citizens), in Himmafushi, their Minivanfaru NGO, in Thulusdhoo, the Surfing Association and island council or in Raa Kinolhos, the island council will be actively involved in organising and ensuring the success of the surfing events. This collaborative approach ensures that the growth of the surfing industry aligns with environmental and community considerations.  
3. What role does the MSA play in promoting environmental awareness and conservation within the surfing community, and how can tourists and the tourism industry contribute to these efforts? Can you elaborate on any training programs or initiatives the MSA offers to local surfers to enhance their skills and knowledge?
MSA actively promotes environmental awareness within the surfing community. Tourists and the tourism industry can contribute by embracing eco-friendly practices. By prioritising conservation efforts, we collectively work towards preserving the natural beauty that makes the Maldives a unique surfing destination.
MSA offers training programs, providing foreign coaches to enhance the skills of local surfers. This includes foundation programs with a focus on skill enhancement. Notably, the inclusion of a coach for the surfing national team last year was great and has been a crucial step contributing to the success of local surfers. 
4. What strategies or recommendations does the MSA have for local businesses in the tourism industry to provide a more enriching and sustainable surfing experience for visitors?
We actively engage with the tourism industry to create a positive impact on the local surfing community. We encourage local guides to educate surfers on sustainable practices. Local businesses, especially guest houses can provide surfing information like a surfing information sheet for all new surfers. The guidelines can outline that there are people from different nations, not to overcrowd the other surf spots, and show common decency when it comes to these things. Each wave should only be ridden by one person and it's not really possible for more than one person to ride the same wave safely. 
Leisure surfers often prefer resorts, while professionals and enthusiasts find local islands more appealing due to cost, access to different spots, and the chance to engage with local surfing communities.  The Maldives is a top destination for Stand Up paddle boarding (SUP) enthusiasts. There are professional stand-up paddleboarding competitions that go in the Maldives right now, offering thrilling experiences with unique waves and picturesque surroundings, making it perfect for paddleboarding, a rapidly growing leisure sport.
5. Could you share some success stories or milestones achieved by the MSA in promoting and enhancing the surfing experience in the Maldives?
MSA has achieved significant milestones in promoting and enhancing the surfing experience. The World Qualifying Series in Hudhuranfushi was a great achievement that we conducted in association with the tourism promotion board at that time. We also co-organized the Asian Surfing Championship 2023, which has been the largest surfing competition in Asia since 2004. Success stories within the association continue to shape our legacy, contributing to the overall growth and recognition of surfing in the Maldives. 
6. Looking ahead, what are some of the upcoming events, competitions, or projects that the MSA is excited about, and how can both locals and tourists get involved to support these initiatives? How does the Maldives Surfing Association envision the future of surfing in the Maldives?
The Maldives Surfing Association (MSA) envisions a vibrant future for surfing in the Maldives. Key initiatives include the Youth Development Program (YDP), a collaborative effort with the Maldives Bodyboarding Association, and active participation in the Asian surfing championships. The 7th International competition successfully concluded in Thulusdhoo earlier this year, marking progress toward our vision.
Photo credit: Bank of Maldives
Exciting upcoming initiatives include the Youth Development Program (YDP), age-specific competitions, enhanced foundation programs which are 6 hours in total for the most basic introduction to surfing where the participants can stand on beginner low level waves. We also have an exciting Stand Up Paddle (SUP) competition planned for  2024. Locals and tourists can get involved by participating in events, volunteering, or supporting these initiatives in various ways.
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