I awake to the sound of waves lapping beneath my bed, the sky turning orange with the sunrise. An uninterrupted view, through sliding glass doors, over the ocean, stretches all the way to the horizon. Baby sharks, stingrays and large fish cruise over the sand flats, looking for breakfast with the incoming tide. Atolls and islands, crystal clear water … the Maldives.
Usually I am happy to sleep anywhere: a fisherman’s hut, a warung, a tent, so long as there is a solid swell running, but now I find myself in the lap of luxury. When the offer came – “High-end resort looking for surfer/journalist to accompany two world-class surfers” to newly discovered reef breaks and distant atolls with some of the most perfectly formed waves in the world – I was unable to resist.
Tickets were booked, bags were packed, but, when the time came to fly out, my excitement was tempered by the fact typhoon Mangkhut was beginning to look menacing and Hong Kong was an increasingly likely target.
Maalifushi is 750 metres long and 200 metres wide; not a large island by any means. Walking along the raised walkways of the COMO resort and peering into the shallows, it is easy to see coral bleaching at work. The resort is trying to regrow coral, guests being invited to strap small pieces of recovered, living coral with zip ties onto steel frames, which are then sunk into the shallows. And though the recovery is slow, the success of previous guests’ efforts is evident.
But I’m not here to replant coral, I’m here to film and to surf breaks discovered by Adam Webster, senior instructor at Tropicsurf, COMO Maalifushi’s surf partner – except that, as luck would have it, when we get out to the spot, about 30 minutes by boat from the resort, there is very little swell.
Undaunted, we move on to a better-known break, dubbed Chambers and marked by two grounded boats, where 22-year-old Tatiana Weston-Webb, from Brazil and ranked No 3 in the world, and her boyfriend, compatriot Jesse Mendes, 25, begin shredding like there’s no tomorrow. These exuberant, friendly pros do not hold back, putting themselves on the line, busting airs, shredding each and every section – and allowing this weekend warrior a glimpse into the life of world-class athletes in their prime (Weston-Webb is looking to blaze her way into the 2020 Olympic Games).
Masterclass over, I am dropped off at a mellow break nearby to enjoy some waves with fellow journalists and friendly locals, hanging ten and hanging out on the edge of nowhere, a few small atolls and islands visible on the horizon.
That evening, we take a cruise. “Dolphins ahead,” cries our guide. Twenty or so spinner dolphins are splashing, jumping and spinning out of the water, near the boat. Apparently, if there are 20 dolphins on the surface, there could be triple that number below. They continue to entertain, swimming at the bow for some 20 minutes, playing as dusk gathers.
On the day of my departure, the blue skies turn grey, the “wet season” of September bringing with it rain and a brisk wind. Nothing, though, compared to what Hongkongers must have been enduring at the time.
Anxiously, I read messages from home as Mangkhut does its worst: my family, sheltering under the dining table, at home in Shek O; a friend’s mission to save a villager trapped by a storm surge; a pregnant neighbour’s rush through the mayhem to hospital, to give birth. And then relief, the storm is easing, tracking away from Hong Kong. Family and friends are fine, while I am sitting pretty in a five-star luxury resort.
With typical Hong Kong efficiency, the airport soon reopens and I return from paradise – into what looks like a war zone.
Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines fly direct from Hong Kong to Male.