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Five things I learnt from surfing the Maldives

performance tips surf strength surf travel surf trip surfconditioning surftraining Jul 01, 2024
Surf board in ocean with surf boat in Maldives for surf trip with rainbow over boat

A personal reflection from the Salt Gypsy surf trip 2024

The glorious thing about adventure is how it opens up human beings. There’s no growth with the familiar, just the repeating of embedded patterns. Where there’s adventure, there’s discomfort, uncertainty, lessons to learn from the unknown, challenges and ‘newness’ that means everything within you needs to adapt. Your brain loves adventure. New environments and activities light it up. Your physiology has modern input that it needs to adjust to. Even your old pattern of thinking is challenged in a fresh, often awe inspiring environment. 

Reading this you may be thinking ‘Pffft - Maldives and discomfort don’t go in the same sentence’. Yet I hadn’t been on a boat trip for a decade. I was slightly nervous about the  waves, but I had done my research and prepared my body. I had gone through 3 months of SQUAD training (link), so surfing unknown waves was not where my discomfort sat. My unease was in LETTING GO. I struggled with allowing myself to go on the trip in the first place.  As the sole income earner, negative generational money and work-ethic beliefs, along with all of the self-defeating talk that comes with that, were gloriously spinning around in my head. The guilt feels! That’s my social–emotional barrier to surfing (read article….) and that nasty emotion nearly won. But when the thoughts were pushed aside, when I could find a moment of peace, do you know what my heart was saying? GOOOOOOO Girl!! 

So, sticking my nerves in a jar, and with a borrowed board bag and some twinny fins, I listened only to the call of adventure. From the moment I was picked up by a boat and was flying across the ocean to our vessel, the familiar scent of diesel fuel and the rhythm of sitting in a watercraft, brought me back to my adolescent life: my sailing history with my best friend in the whole world who had passed these two years prior. Tears stinging my eyes, it felt like coming home, and I knew instantly that I had made the right decision. 

The first morning on the boat re-affirmed that, when I walked out onto the deck to see familiar faces. Claire, member of The Female Surfer SQUAD, and the epic Salt Gypsy Crew, including“Big D!” - Danny Clayton, Clementine Bourke, Jazz, Bridget and Ming Nomchong, all there to greet me with instant coffee and a big “Yeeeeew!”,  bringing me to my first lesson from the Maldives:

Lesson 1: Your tribe sets your VIBE!

These ladies are epic! Which, I think is testimony to Danny because she attracted these rad humans into her life. You want people who match you but are also uniquely different. That, I feel, comes down to values. None of us came with egos because rad humans don’t have time for low vibe nonsense. Our tribe was chill, hardworking, had a propensity for fun and a “yep sure!” attitude to adventure. Opportunities for exploration weren’t wasted. Memories of swimming with sharks, “Brian the manta”, riding an underwater bike on a ship wreck could all be laughed at and chatted about over evening beers on the sunset tinted deck. That’s outside of the banter and playbacks of momentous waves ridden throughout the day. Rad humans will create rad memories. Its a simple as that.

Importantly, surf etiquette was already built in. That’s the advantage of surfing with women who share the same values. It means that when you bring another 10 people to the line-up on an already crowded wave, you treat each other with kindness and respect and ensure that everyone gets what they paid for: epic, mind blowing, waves. I saw boats arrive with hogs that wouldn’t share waves with members of their same boat! I saw surfers yell and put each other down in the surf before paddling back to share lunch on their vessel. We brought the good vibes, good times, and etiquette, which meant that our time in the water went smoothly.  


Image: Ming Nomchong: We were often the best dressed in the line up too, thanks to Salt Gypsy! 

Whilst sharing waves in the Indian ocean, lesson two quickly advanced upon me:

Lesson two: Quality waves make a HUGE difference. 

Here’s some information about my local home break. It sucks. Most of the time. It’s fickle, often powerless, it has a mad sweep and it’s more of a longboard wave the majority of the time. It has its moments of awesomeness but these are few and far between. We know that time in the water is really important for surf confidence, fitness and progression. But I remember Chelsea Hedges once said to me, time on quality waves is more important. As a crowd avoidant person who will choose slop over packed point break lineups, I didn’t realise, or rather forgot about, the disservice I was giving to my surfing by riding consistently bad waves. 

Good quality waves allow you to practice good quality moves. Which means, once you hit the Maldives/Mentawais or wherever your surf trip is, expect to learn a whole lot! I learnt more in 10 days about my surfing than I have in 10 years. That is not an exaggeration. Surf trips for me are no longer about surfing waves, they are about surfing good quality waves so that I can continue to grow. It is a game changing mindset that shifts my emotions around guilt. Does this mean surfing preparation can be throw out the window? Nope, it still has validity, let me explain with my third lesson from the Maldives: 


Lesson three: Preparation helps 

Theres a reason I won the enegiser bunny award on the Salt Gypsy boat trip. Along with Claire, who was a fellow SQUAD team member, we surfed often, for long sessions, and stacked up high volume waves counts. Ironically, on a small day whilst waiting for the swell to arrive, Claire paddled out with a donut pool toy and I paddled out with a snorkel mask on because I couldn’t decide which activity I wanted to do the most. We were the only two out. Keen as mustard we were and the least sore I think. Floating around, waiting for waves I asked Claire if she felt well prepared for the surf trip with the SQUAD training and she immediately advised “Yes, I just feel fitter and like I can paddle for ages”. This is something shared by other participants in ourSQUAD training, which includes water-based fitness training as well. The run-on effect of improved paddle ability is elevated confidence because you know you can paddle yourself out of trouble. Good quality waves help you learn when you are on a wave, but  preparation will help you catch good quality waves more often and help keep you out of trouble.

In stating the benefits of surf preparation, keep in mind there is always an element of conditioning that happens on a surf trip regardless of preparation. You may be familiar with this – the day three muscle soreness, joint stiffness and pain. Unless you are a professional surfer, there’s no real way around this. It comes down to the volume of surfing that happens on a surf trip, compared to the average hours non-professionoal surfers clock in a week. So to keep going and not miss a session, lesson number four for me was:

Lesson four: Decompression keeps you going

I wrote an article on this for surfing life magazine (issue 349). Decompression undoes the ‘damage’ that  repetitive paddling and hours spent in a paddling posture does to the human body. It is an active form of joint realignment that you can do with exercises and breathwork that reduce joint stiffness and helps muscles relax. It’s the reset button that has you feeling ready for that next surf, rather than needing a walking stick or someone to walk over your back. Claire and I had some experience with this, thanks to our SQUAD training, and it wasn’t long before decompression sessions became a thing on the boat deck. Preparation helps you stay safe and catch lots of waves, but having tools for maintenance on a surf trip will help you last the distance and not miss out on sessions. 

Image: On board decompression sessions became a thing to keep us going! (Active wear curtesy of Salt Gypsy).

With an impressive tan (thankfully reduced by the sun safe swimwear from Salty Gypsy), memories residing in the muscular tissue on my smiling face, and a heart filled with magic  moments spent with great humans, I came to this final conclusion and lesson number five.

Lesson five: Adventure is everything 

In a world where we create habits to stay healthy, to fit in all of the training we are supposed to fit in, to manage the busyness of life, to stick to a regime and minimise the guilt of falling off the band-wagon, spontaneity and breaking from routine are just as important performance drivers. I cannot explain how soul-reviving this trip was. I shed skin, letting go of who I thought I was and beliefs that never served me. I am more motivated to do what I love. I am focussed in my surf training and know what I want to get out  of my sessions. I am also more determined than ever to help female surf athletes experience what they are capable of. Adventure is key to this. Without adventure, you don’t know if you are #surfingyourbest waves. There is a whole world out there to explore and a lifetime of lessons that come with being in the ocean. Lesson number 5 for me was saying yes to venturing into something I was slightly uneasy about. I had forgotten, but now I remember, how very important adventure is to who I am and what I am here to bring to the world.


Addition: Big shout out to Big D from Salt Gypsy and Louis from Liquid  Destinations. It was so epic to be a part of the full circle, 20 year surf trip this year. I can’t wait to do it all again in 2025. Yeew!

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