Forget flopping on the beach at this stunning Maldives resort – it’s perfect for surfing


Breakfast on Gili Lankanfushi and I’m finishing my iced coffee while swaying in a rope hammock overlooking the impossibly blue lagoon.

Nearby, a couple canoodles under palm trees, taking breaks to sip on the first cocktails of the day. Others are emerging bleary-eyed from overwater villas after sleeping under the stars on their rooftop terrace.

All is as expected in this corner of the Indian Ocean. Except my husband Dan and I are more interested in surfing, something I had assumed was a no-no in the Maldives. Gili, which sits in the North Male Atoll just a bumpy 20-minute speedboat ride from Male Airport, opened in 2000 as the original overwater resort.

But the tides are turning. And the resort, like many others in the Maldives, is beginning to take advantage of the world-class waves the archipelago has to offer.

Tropical: Harriet Sime and her husband Dan holiday in one of the Crusoe Residences (above) at the Gili Lankanfushi resort in the Maldives

As placid waters lap the islands, currents hit the surrounding reefs creating waves suitable for everyone from learners (like me) to experts. On our first morning, we meet our surf instructor, Johnny, in his ‘office’, which is a beachfront straw-roofed shack with surfboards propped up on every wall and signs saying ‘gone surfing’ and ‘surfing is difficult, we make it easy’.

We discuss my abilities and, 20 minutes later, I’m bobbing up and down on a giant blue foam surfboard, our private speedboat anchored just metres away.

Triggerfish splash about on the surface, speckled eagle rays glide through the waters below and electric orange clownfish bash their heads against coral. ‘This one’s purrfect for you, H,’ Johnny says in his strong Australian accent as he paddles towards me. He shoves me on to the wave, forcing me to hop to my feet. I can see through the sun-dappled water to the reef below as I nervously move across the wave, arms spread and knees bent, before ungraciously falling off.

For two hours, it’s just us and two young Australian brothers on the reef. I’m the only learner.

'The resort, like many others in the Maldives, is beginning to take advantage of the world-class waves the archipelago has to offer,' says Harriet. Above are surfers at Gili Lankanfushi

‘The resort, like many others in the Maldives, is beginning to take advantage of the world-class waves the archipelago has to offer,’ says Harriet. Above are surfers at Gili Lankanfushi 

So, while the others dance along walls of water every few minutes, I take long breaks and watch the waves as they rear up and turn from dark blue to frothing turquoise when they smash into the reef.

Johnny, whose full name is, aptly, Johnny Free, has been on the island for a year. His tan, faded shorts and sparkling eyes are testament to his years spent working in resorts in the Seychelles, Fiji and Sri Lanka. He can read the waves flawlessly; pushing me into the mellower ones in the perfect position and giving me feedback each time. Our captain and his staff whistle at Mr Free and his minions to signal that time is up.

They pull our surfboards out of the water as we clamber back on board to fresh, cooled towels and ice-cold water. And then I see it. A giant green turtle craning its neck to catch its breath just a metre or so away. It stays there for a minute, dipping its head in the water and rocking its shell from side to side before slipping back deep below the surface.

This is surfing, but the ludicrously exotic, luxurious version. We join the honeymooners later that day for our post-surf ‘recovery massage’. Giant slabs of glass break up the wooden floor of the treatment rooms, so we watch crabs clambering over the coral and unicorn fish hunting for prey as we’re stretched, twisted and pummelled. Occasionally, my therapist’s toes come into view as she pushes down and pounds away at the tensions.

'Triggerfish splash about on the surface, speckled eagle rays glide through the waters below and electric orange clownfish bash their heads against coral,' Harriet writes

‘Triggerfish splash about on the surface, speckled eagle rays glide through the waters below and electric orange clownfish bash their heads against coral,’ Harriet writes

Our days become almost rhythmic: breakfast is followed by surfing, which is followed by lunch, spa treatments and dinner. My surfing skills seem to improve more in three days with Mr Free than in the 30 years I have been trying to master the sport.

Any downtime is spent in our gigantic rustic-chic villa, which is stilted over the water and kitted out with floor-to-ceiling windows, a deep oval bathtub, outdoor shower and giant sundeck with daybeds, catamaran nets and a hammock which hovers above the water just a swim stroke or so from our villa.

But, unlike almost all the other villas scattered around stilted wooden jetties, ours (a Crusoe Residence) is well and truly castaway, sitting out at sea alone and only accessible via our own private boat.

Dan gets to grips with the little wooden vessel and finds any excuse to unknot it from the stilts, start the engine and drive to the main island across a lagoon.

Harriet's mornings are spent surfing, before she returns to the resort for lunch, spa treatments and dinner. Pictured is the overwater bar

Harriet’s mornings are spent surfing, before she returns to the resort for lunch, spa treatments and dinner. Pictured is the overwater bar 

A family villa at the resort. Gili opened in 2000 as the original overwater resort, Harriet reveals

A family villa at the resort. Gili opened in 2000 as the original overwater resort, Harriet reveals

The Robinson Crusoe theme continues with the ‘Mr (or Ms) Fridays’; private butlers available 24/7. Ours, Naff, runs our lives so smoothly we want to take her home with us.

She arranges everything: snorkelling equipment, champagne at sunset, breakfast in bed. She even sorts our Covid travel declaration form for the airport.

On her recommendation, we head to the main restaurant on our last evening for the ‘Brazilian barbecue’ evening. Smiling staff wheel around smoking barbecues amid a fiery sunset, offering skewers of everything from jobfish and octopus to bacon wrapped chicken. We devour the lot.

‘Have you had enough to do?’ a friend who knows us well texts. ‘Plenty,’ I reply. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a satisfying holiday. One where mounds of delicious food and spa treatments feel very well deserved indeed.

TRAVEL FACTS 

Seven nights’ B&B in a Villa Suite at Gili Lankanfushi from £7,515 pp with Elegant Resorts, including return British Airways flights, lounge access and speedboat transfers (elegantresorts.co.uk).

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