Thrills galore

Because of its marine location, the Maldives boasts every kind of water-based adventure sport from paddling around a lagoon in a transparent hulled canoe to being propelled several metres below the surface of the sea by underwater scooter, or gliding several metres above the surface dangling from a parachute behind a speedboat.  For the energetic and adventurous, the Maldives is just as rewarding a destination as it is for the laidback sun worshiper or sophisticated epicure.

With 99% of its territory being sea, the Maldives is one of the world’s leading watersports hubs with its environment of islands and turquoise blue waters forming the perfect combination for a natural watersports arena. All the resorts and the inhabited islands popular with tourists have a watersports centre of some kind, either with a fleet of windsurf boards, sails and other equipment, or just a couple of wakeboards.

Not all the resorts favour motorised watersports like jet skiing because of the pollution and noise disturbance to the serenity of the resort. On the other hand, many resorts support watersports like canoeing and paddle surfing because of their minimal effect on the peaceful environment. Some of the popular thrills to be had from adventure watersports are listed here.

Canoeing & Catamaran sailing

Canoes can be hired for an energetic paddle around a lagoon from all except about ten resorts. While it might seem simple, it’s a demanding form of exerise, especially in the sun. If required a crew member from the watersports centre will act as instructor and escort. Mini catamarans about 5m long consisting of two hulls with a sail in the middle can be hired either with someone from the watersports centre as instructor and crew, or for solo excursions by expert sailors. It’s a graceful way to sail around a lagoon and less strenuous than windsurfing.

Fishing & Flyboarding

More than 90 resorts can arrange the thrill of big game fishing for serious anglers. There are three main areas for fishing. The reef waters include outer slopes of reefs and the channels between islands. Bait fish for catching tuna by rod and line can be caught in the reef waters. The intra-atoll basin means the area within atolls, and that’s where to find frigate mackerel, sail fish and seer fish. Near-shore waters are the waters outside atolls but within 40km of the coast. Skip jacket tuna is caught there. Fishing in a lagoon is not allowed. Some resorts have boats especially constructed for big game fishing with fixed seats and rod holders for fighting the big ones, and systems for finding fish. Records of game-fish catches are recorded in association with the International Game Fishing Association. Flyboarding is an extreme sport taking water skiing to a new direction: upwards. It’s a thrill seeker’s dream that enables the participant to shoot up into the air and zoom over the waves. The flyboard itself is strapped to the feet of the user and is connected to a jet ski by a hose. The power of the jet ski emits water through the hose jettisoned out at great pressure beneath the flyboard. This powers it and the flyboarder, supported by the hose, up to about 9m to10m above the water. The flyboarder controls everything about the flyboard except how much power it’s receiving. The power portion of the experience is controlled by a certified instructor on the accompanying jet ski.

Free diving & Fun tube riding

Free diving is genuinely a free activity since no equipment has to be hired. This extreme sport is also known as skin diving. It relies on the diver’s ability to hold breath underwater until resurfacing, instead of using traditional breathing apparatus such as scuba gear. It can be a competitive sport in which divers strive to attain great depths, times or distance with a single breath. Free diving is the basis of synchronised swimming and underwater games. Free diving is actually an ancient practice in the Maldives from the days when a boatman would have to dive down to the seabed to untie a rope from the sunken rock to which the boat is moored, or to unhook an anchor caught in a reef. Fishermen would also free dive to hand-catch lobsters. (Spears and harpoons are banned in the Maldives.) Free diving is also a recreational activity; it’s relaxing and liberating because of the freedom experienced underwater, and the lack of restricting equipment or noise. Expert free divers often go as deep as scuba divers but the time spent underwater is limited to their breath-holding ability. The Maldives lagoons are good places to practise swimming underwater on a single breath and to try free diving. However, it is advisable for beginners first to seek advice and guidance from the crew at a resort’s diving station. Ringo, banana and fun tube riding is a pursuit of young thrill-seekers who are towed on an inflated tube of various shapes behind a speedboat across a lagoon. Sometimes the experience ends with everyone being happily toppled into the water.

Jet ski & Kayaking

Jet skis are a bit like motorbikes as they roar across the water leaving spray and foam in their wake. It’s a fun ride clinging to the jet ski’s driver or taking over the controls. A kayak is great for paddling in solo exploration around an island as it is made with a light frame and has a watertight covering with a small opening for the paddler. Some kayaks are made of transparent material for gazing underwater.

Kite surfing & Kneeboarding

This is a surface watersport that combines all the thrills of wakeboarding, windsurfing, paragliding, skateboarding and gymnastics in an extreme sport demanding strength and agility. The kitesurfer harnesses the power of the wind by hanging on to a large, controllable kite that sweeps across the water according the wind’s force. Standard surfboards or boards shaped specifically for the purpose are used. Paddle boarding, or paddle surfing, looks like a simple sea sport until you try it. All you need is a board on which you stand and a paddle, a pole with a broad blade at one end, to steer the board, and you, through the water. The calmer the water (as in a lagoon) the more chance to glide and turn with proficiency. Floating along standing up on a paddle board is a great way to observe what’s happening underwater.

Parasailing & Surfing

Less than a third of resort watersports centres have facilities for parasailing and it is a thrilling, but demanding, watersport. It is just as thrilling to watch, as it resembles surfing while attached to a parachute. The participant is towed behind a boat while harnessed to a specially designed canopy wing, the parasail. As the boat gains speed, the wind catches the parasail and it, and the participant, soar above the waves. The Maldives is famous around the world for its extreme surfing and there are several surfing areas within the atolls, with Male’ Atoll being the most convenient because of proximity to the airport and for boat transfers from Male’. Great surfing is possible between April and October when three good swells come each month, lasting a couple of days, and the best thing is that these are off-shore. Waves are commonly 2m high. Some of them are known as Himafushi (Jail Break), Thamburudhoo left and right (aka Honkys and Sultans) Thulusdhoo Point (Colas) and Kuda Vilingili with the best “left hander” in the Atoll. In the far south, Laamu and Gaafu Alifu/Gaafu Dhaalu Atolls (also known as Huvadhu) are separated by the broadOne and Half Degree Channel. As there is not much land mass to the south of these atolls, swells generated by the roaring forties (a weather phenomenon created in the far south of the Indian Ocean) hit the islands of these atolls, creating the best waves in the country. A good time to visit Huvadhu Atoll is during the northeast monsoon, January to March, when the swell is most consistent. For waves around Laamu the best times are March to April and August to November. Several resorts and inhabited islands close to surfer hotspot cater for surfers with boats for hire, and some tour agents in Male’ organise surfing packages.

Wakeboarding & Water skiing

Well over half the resorts have facilities for water skiing and this sport is well suited to the calmer waters of resort lagoons. There are special instruction sessions and the boatmen are patient with beginners trying to ski for the first time. It is as much a thrill to watch a skilled skier perform as it is for the skier. With about a dozen exceptions, all resorts offer windsurfing from their watersports station, which is usually separately run from the diving centre. A full course for beginners with about eight sessions of one hour each is available, and boards for windsurfing can be hired by the hour. Windsurfers are warned to stay within certain limits so they can be monitored in case of difficulty. Windsurfing is not permitted at night. Beginners can enjoy windsurfing at any time of the year while advanced windsurfers would probably prefer the strong monsoon winds of May to October. November to April winds are less predictable.

Underwater Scooters

An underwater scooter yields a unique thrill for non-divers and even non-swimmers. These scooters were invented to provide the thrills of scuba diving without the rigours, and no cumbersome gear such as a weight belt or strapped tank is required. The scooter has a self-contained breathing environment that makes it natural and comfortable to breathe as it travels underwater at a depth of 5m and with a speed of about 2kph. Full instruction is given and the controls operate like a conventional land motor-scooter. The rider sits on a seat with legs at the side and turns the handlebars for direction and pushes batons for acceleration. The rider’s head is encased in a helmet with air that is permanently regenerated provided by a diving cylinder attached to the scooter. The scooter is powered by an electric battery and scooters are available for one or two passengers. A scooter ride underwater is an unexpected thrill that also gives a new perspective of marine life.