A trip that started a little over 2 years ago.
It’s early pandemic, and I have just been repatriated to Canada from El Salvador on a flight organized by the embassy.
Upon arrival, my parents send me off to a cottage to quarantine by a lake where I end up staying alone for almost 3 weeks.
The world feels upside down, I’m processing a break-up, have left my recently-built house, my car and basically my life in El Sal behind closed borders…. it’s strange times.
My good friend Aline calls me from Hawaii: SISTAAAA. We’re having a crazy opportunity. Maldives are still open for tourism, some of my friends have a boat, if you are able to get your butt over here, we’re gonna get the surf trip of a lifetime, surfing the Maldives almost to ourselves…! A break in the Matrix!
I listen to her almost blankly. Travelling knows me well. I’m the “yesss!” girl. And I live for these kind of calls. The world feels like my playground and yet, in that precise moment, sitting in my little cottage deep inland Canada, Earth has never felt so large. The Maldives appear to be completely out of my reach with 90% of commercial flights being grounded. If re-entering my country of citizenship was such a hassle, this feels like mission impossible…
–I’ll have to pass, I end up saying.
The following year, they are heading to the Maldives again. I get my invitation months in advance and travelling is more fluid, but one of my best friends is getting married around the same dates in Canada. I would never miss that for all the waves in the world.
I let the boat miss me.
And so it brings us to this year.
The Maldives trip is on for August 2022. 14 days on a live-aboard boat, where we get to move around the archipelago and surf various breaks. Eating, sleeping, showering, yogiing and obviously surfing, all on water.
This time, nothing can stop me.
And all the while I thought I was the one experiencing the wind
Turns out She loves to kiss me back
How funny to realize that She is moving me
And oh how She moves me
And how funny to realize that Fear is really Courage becoming known
And that tears are really Joy finally coming home
Outside of me
From within me
I am blessed
For knowing She
For letting Her move me – Savanna
Sometimes, everything within you says YESSS. I know, I’ve felt it before, this urge, this burning desire. The butterflies in your stomach in the face of an upcoming adventure. A trip you’ve been waiting for so long that you’d fast forward time if you could.
But here we are, in the midst of August, I’m in Canada for a few weeks after 10 months away. It’s comforting and homely, the long sweet summer days. My departure for South East Asia is just around the corner, and plot twist…. I’m really not feeling it.
The days seem to be escaping me. It’s a strange feeling. The paradox of wanting to both stay and go. To adventure further than most, and yet, be here to simply go bike with dad on a Sunday.
Two months ago I started experiencing growing pain and discomfort in my body, and my back is now killing me for no apparent reason. I run all the tests possible, we find nothing. Some close family members and friends are sick or unwell, and I’m worried, so it seems futile to go chase waves. I want to be here. It’s hard to explain it with the mind, or here with words. It’s the gut feeling. She, the wind, moving me. Everything within me says; it’s not yet time to leave…
I ask for a sign as I get into my car, entering the highway. The song Stayed comes next.
Our gut feeling is our compass, our 6th sense, which cannot be rationalized. I’m a firm believer that the more you use it, you trust it, the sharper it gets. You become aware, in-tune with little shifts even in the air of a room. A shadow, a path to choose in the forked road in the woods.
And so it spoke, loud.
I take a few calming breaths and call the airline. 26 hrs before my flight… I’m shaking, crying, I want to hang up after the first 3 seconds already.
Am I really doing this? Cancelling my dream trip?
And then magic happens. The best airline customer support I ever received. The representative is calm and compassionate, he suggests we put my ticket on hold, take some time to sort the storm, and easily rebook the flight in no-matter-how-many-days, or decide to cancel and get full refund minus $200.
This is the first green-light I hit, after a series of reds.
–Ok, let’s put in on hold for now, I say. I’ll call back soon.
I go for a lengthy swim that evening, I live in front of a lake. Movement, breath, water – always my remedies of choice.
The final decision is to cut the apple in two; stay in Montreal for a few more days, and join the crew in the Maldives on Day 5/14. I’m feeling relieved, I use the extra days to spend as much quality time with my loved ones, and leave in less of a hurry.
I promise I’ll be back for Christmas this time.
After 30 hours of travel, I finally find my feet on Malé, in the north atolls of the Maldives. A few little dots higher land in the middle of Indian Ocean.
Travelling East is always interesting, as it gives you great perspective.
I’m being reminded that so much of what we were brought up to believe are relative truths. Beliefs, ideas and views, widely vary with the cultural environment. What is true to me, isn’t for you. No true, no false, nor good or bad. Just different.
We get to experience what it feels like to be a visual minority. To be stared at. To be treated differently. To have people make assumptions about us… A necessary experience, in my opinion. Nothing builds your compassion muscle like having the tables turn on you.
I’VE MADE IT
I arrived fashionably late onto the boat, where the crew has been aboard for a few days, some weeks, already. They great me warmly. I’m really happy I made it, and so did all my boards and belongings.
Capitain Frankie Sparrow shows me around the 3-story boat. The personal cabins are in the hold, living / dining room in the centre, more rooms and commander center on level 2, and wide roof top space arriba. Mr. Pineapple is our cook. Curries, southern Indian cuisine, pasta, meat. It’s good, I’m actually impressed of what he is able to make for us in a tiny swaying kitchen.
I barely sleep the first night. It’s stormy, like hella stormy and it ends up being so for the whole trip. Nobody has ever seen weather like it at this time of the year. Climate change?
The boat is rocking so wildly, I’m seeing all the scenes of the movie Titanic in my head. I’m convinced i’m living it.
One of my friends actually went on a boat trip to the Maldives a few years back and they hit the coral reef and the boat started sinking. I’m not joking, I saw the videos on his phone. Nobody died, but lots of stuff was ruined by a mix of salt water and petrol, and they got shit scared having to escape the boat at night.
But like any other day, the morning light always comes back. It’s time to go surf, baby!
Wait. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
The fact that I almost never ended up on this boat goes back way further.
I was born inland Canada in a perfect green-grass white-fence suburb of Montreal. I started skiing at 3 years old, and practiced about every North American sport competitively. For gymnastics to springboard diving, to soccer and swimming. Nobody in my surroundings surf, the ocean is 4 hours away on the other side of the USA border….
How did a girl like me, end up so deep in the surfing world?
The story of ‘seriously’ getting into surfing has to do with meeting Salty co-founder Marie-Christine and starting Salty Souls, which allowed be me to live by the beach year-round. This was in 2015. The same way the Salty Souls Experience is known to change people’s life.. starting this company changed mine. And in that manner, we always aim to offer the kind of the trip that has transformed us.
Over the last few years, as I’ve been sliding deeper and deeper into the world of surfing (until the point of no-return, hardly imagining a life without it) and it eventually appeared clear to me — especially when I would try to share my surfing tales with people unfamiliar with the sport — that surfing is a parallel universe. When you are deep into it, you live and breathe the waves. You organize your schedule around the tides, you always know what the surf is doing. And you become familiar with a whole jargon. Words like : Sexwax. Bomb. Getting pitted. Shacked. Smashed. Dead low. Pumping. Wipeout. Frothing. Dawn patrol. Green room. Hang ten. Hit the lip. Washing machine. Kook. Maxed out. Mushy. Hollow. Over the falls. Spit. Pocket. Sucking dry. Tow in. Or getting snaked…
And so in the same matter, I am aware that for a lot of people even the notion of venturing on a surf charter surfing around the atolls is pretty foreign. Hang on, I’m getting there,
Here we are, 10 surfers along with a photographer and video-maker, and a crew of 5 Maldivians onboard. The boat gives us the ability to move around the islands. We anchor the big boat in the lagoons, and we move around the surf breaks with a smaller boat called a dinghy.
Maldives is an archipelago made up of 1192 islands which are geographically grouped into 26 atolls. Some atolls are huge with hundreds of islands, while the atoll of Gnaviyani is based on only 1 island. The archipelago is located 720km off the southern tip of Sri Lanka.
When we arrive to the wave, we jump directly from the boat. It’s a surfer’s luxury to not having to paddle from the shore. But consequently, we often arrive from behind the wave which is a little destabilizing at first, as we can hardly assess how it breaks and the proximity of the bottom — all I know is that it breaks on corals everywhere..
Everyone’s a good surfer in our group, and in the line-up. There are very little girls surfing, it’s a ratio of 3 girls for 30 boys — as it often is. I’m being challenged, totally. All my senses are so awake. We see the reef, the water is crystalline. Alive. It’s one of the richest shark ecosystems.
Not all sharks are dangerous. As Eric the photographer says — “I think you have the wrong idea about sharks, guys!” They’ve been demonized, while on land, there are mass shooters walking in the street. Humans have always been the biggest predator…!
I’m gonna let the images speak for the rest of this chapter of the story. To be continued… 😉
Photos by Eric Duran and Me 🙂