Maldives is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Blessed with a vast ocean of unexplored water and sea creatures. A fitting place for water sports and its enthusiasts.
Our first Trendsetter is a young body boarder, Ali Khushruwan, more famously known as 'Kuda Ayya'. A young man compelled into a uniquely gratifying water sport, Body Boarding.
His journey began at the tender at of 12. Ayya shed light to many things about his journey to becoming a state champion body boarder. He also highlighted the issues that water sports enthusiasts such as him, are forced to face today.
History of Body Boarding
Body boarding was invented by an American Surfer, Tom Morey in 1971 in Hawaii. He cut a polyethylene foam into a rectangular shape and covered it with newspaper.
Birthed from humble beginnings, the body board has grown into an international sport today.
Because of Tom Morey’s passion for music, it was also referred to as ‘Boogie board’. This uniquely different wave riding method was inspired from the Bahá'í Faith, a religion that focus on spiritual unity of all mankind.
Continuing onto Ayya’s interview….
1. How did you initially start this sport?
I was in School at the time, grade 6, year 1998. My brother, his friends and I used to go to track every weekend. It was a regular norm.
My brother and his friends would suddenly disappear, leaving me alone. Eventually I found out that this group was going to the previously known ‘Bajiya stones’ point in the sea, to ride the waves using a wooden board.
They actually tried it for fun, it didn’t have anything to do with the actual sport. I begged my brother to take me with them and that’s how it initially started.
2. Were you always a good swimmer?
I was a good swimmer because of the swimming programs conducted by schools those days. My love for the sea began at that point.
3.When did you first start at a professional level?
That would be in August 2001. I participated in the ‘National Varunula Competition’. That was after the establishment of Maldives Surfers Association (MSA). At the time, I got the ‘Ummeedhee Raalhaa Erun Theriya’ award.
So I thought to myself, this a good sport to pursue and also promote in Maldives. That’s how it all started at the professional level.
4.Tell us something dangerous that happened to you while body boarding?
The only incident that comes to my mind is the one I faced in 2001, I was about 14 years old. It was during the ‘National Varunulaa Challenge’ competition.
On the last day of the challenge, the waves were enormous, my young friends and I were not used to such huge waves. We even requested the judges to postpone the competition for the next day, but they didn’t listen.
Actually, the bigger the waves are, the better it is for body boarding, and our young minds didn’t grasp that fact. I felt that we were too young to compete on such a day, and I was not that good at holding my breath then.
As I remember, me, Mustho, Karo, the 2nd and 3rd place winners of that challenge, and my friend who was the same age as me, Kuda Mode, all 4 of us paddled into the sea towards the waves.
I remember thinking that if I stayed with the mellower tide, I would be safe and I can finish and go back soon. And I did try to stay there, but the current was too strong and I was eventually pulled towards the bigger waves.
The tides started setting in, which means that many tides come in a sequence one after the other.
Mustho, who is like a brother to me, called out warning that the wave was coming in.
I looked back to see the wave. My heart started beating rapidly, I was stricken with fear. It was the most gigantic wave I had ever seen in my life. It was the color of the deep ocean, you could not see through into it. To the 14 year old me, it was like a ‘Kandu fureytha’.
I had always ridden in mellow waves, never rode a big wave.
Mustho told me to swim as fast as I could because it was a set of waves. And Mustho and I swam towards it. I honestly thought I was a goner for sure, and I remember thinking that I would wait till the strength of the wave diminishes, but it came in at full speed and crashed right at me.
My technique then, was to dive in, but not too deep (was not aware of all the techniques to handle big tides).
I was pulled inside the wave in a violent turmoil and squashed from the weight of the water, wiped out in overhead waves. I had never been in such a situation in my life.
I tried helplessly to come up to the surface for air. It went on for so long that I eventually became disoriented and I didn’t know where the surface was and where the ocean bed was.
I was caught within the strong wave current and I thought I was dying when all my senses started to fade, I actually felt myself fading, and things started to become red as I struggled for air.
Fortunately for me, the rope connecting to the body board is tied around the arm, and since the body board is lighter, it will float to the surface before the person. And so I felt the tug from the rope. With an effort, I climbed the leash connecting the board to my arm to find the surface.
I was scared out of my mind, but the burst of air was welcoming. That was the last 5 minutes of the challenge. By then, I didn’t want to get back in the water, I didn’t care.
You should know, getting whirled into the wave is normal, even for the strongest surfer. But I didn’t know how to hold my breath then.
That was the most terrifying day of my life. My mom and my brother were standing there waiting for me to surface. My brother who was experienced in Body boarding knew the dangers I was facing, and my mom knew because she was a very ‘sea person’. They had stood at the shore rigid with concern, waiting for me to surface.
5. What makes such a sport different from others?
There are many water sports in Maldives, as we are surrounded by water.
For body boarding, you have to be mentally and physically strong. It needs a lot of strength. For instance, no matter how strong you are, you will get pulled into the waves. And you need that strength to hold your breath while being twirled inside the waves.
It is quite risky, but without thinking about the dangers, if you perceive it as fun, you will get attached to it.
Look at me now, I am completely addicted to this sport, it is that much fun.
Previously people believed that if you want to learn to surf, you learn body boarding and then move on to surfing. But it is a separate sport, although body boarding segment is comparatively smaller than surfing.
However it is similar to surfing because you can surf even with the body board, but the technique and the board is different.
6. Do you do this as a hobby, work or other?
Actually, this is my hobby, work and everything.
I have been in sea sports since I finished school. I got an opportunity in a safari and started working as a surf guide. You get to learn so much.
That was in 2010, and since then, I have been working in sea sports. So about 7 years now.
7. Have you learned anything new since you started?
I learned many things from Body boarding, for instance, since the bridge work started, we have been unable to go and surf at the surfing point of Male’.
I have learned to be very patient about it as there wasn’t a time when I thought that I would never get the chance to surf there again.
My friends and I, we would sit at a café nearby and watch till a good wave came in. Once it did, we would jump in, regularly without fail, been more than 15 years now.
But now, we cannot go into the ocean like we used to, right after waking up. We just sit there having our coffee and watching the waves. It is our passion, and we are forced not to be part of it.
In the past, if we didn’t like the waves, we used to just wait for the ideal wave. But if we knew that there would come a day when we are unable to rejoice or experience those waves, we would have gone, every day, no matter the size of the wave.
This is the biggest frustration to us. That we are prohibited from enjoying something that we love and did every day.
8. Are there any difference in the type or rhythm of the waves since the bridge was started to build?
We will see if there is any difference only after the bridge is completed. It can go 2 ways, it may initiate better waves or worse, the possibility that it will get better is very small.
But I think the tide will change drastically in the next 5 years because so many things will be moved or placed there.
9. Where do you mostly go to body board now?
That is a very important question. Male’ surfing point was our biggest stadium.
Body boarding was there for a long time, but it is something that came only very recently to Maldives.
The waves of Male’ region is great for body boarders. It is very different from other waves within the country.
‘Varunula Raalhu’ or Male’ waves are very unique. Someone who surfs will probably understand this. When the waves are big, it is very steep at the top, surfers will have difficulty surfing on very steep waves, but for body boarders, they can start paddling and catch up to the wave.
So they can hold on with their hands even on steeper waves. The main community of body boarders are in Male’, although there are body boarders all over Maldives of course. But because of these type of waves, there are more body boarders here than surfers. Male’ waves are fitting for body boarding, and it is so famous here due to this reason.
10. What achievements have u had?
There are many, the most recent ones are:
•2015 - Champion (Tioman Surf Festival 2015 - International)
•2015 - Haveeru Special Achievement Award at Haveeru Sports Awards 2014
•2015 - Champion / Prone Division (XL Burunu Shikaaru Bodyboarding Challenge - Season Opening 2015)
•2015 - Champion (ASC Maldives Open 2015 - International )
•2016 - Champion (MBBA Villingili Pro 2016)
•2016 - Champion/ Sultans of Thamburodhoo
•2016 - Champion/Quicksilver Cherating International Surfing Competition 2016
•2016 - Champion/ Dropknee and prone Open Division of bodyboard attack 2016.
(Please refer to Ayya’s FB page: https://web.facebook.com/pg/KudaAyya/about)
There is no place like Maldives. I have gone to so many places, but I don’t believe I can live anywhere else, I will miss Maldives and its beautiful Ocean.
For instance, Australia is a beautiful place, but the ocean is so much more different than here in Maldives. It is incomparable. In Australia you need to wear the wet suit due to the intense coldness, but here we can go in wearing shorts, the temperature is great.
12. Do you ever think of changing your career? Why/why not?
No. Never. Because everything is in my life. I am very content. I have met so many people and acquired much knowledge. I have learned so many things, from people’s personality to their behavior.
People are so different and I have met so many diverse people from various countries.
I am doing what I love.
13. How do you handle a situation when you realize you were wrong?
I get silent. And when I realize I am wrong, I go and apologize.
14. If you were not what you are today, what would you aspire to be?
I don’t know really, would be a sportsman definitely, maybe swimmer, I can’t work in an office.
15. One word that describes you the best
16. What makes you unique?
I don’t know. I guess straightforward.
17. What are your goals for the next three to five years?
Looking forward to more competitions and would like to participate in Olympics if they introduce body boarding as a category. I would like to teach others and will fight for our ‘Varunula Raalhugandu’ area. I want to find a solution for this. To make it available for us surfers.
An athlete would grieve over the loss of the national stadium, same way that water, area, is our stadium, we are so close to it, and it is a part of us.
18. Your proposal to opening the ‘Varunula Raalhugandu’ Area?
According to political personnel’s, before even closing the area, they stated that they were going to give ferry services in that region, but so far nothing has happened.
We don’t want that, we want to open that area for surfers. It probably is dangerous to open that point during the bridge work that is going on, but maybe they could give us options by closing off a certain region and allowing us to use a safer part. They could put a ‘Buoy’ line along the platform so no one would go beyond that line.
Another way is putting a flag or light in the sea to inform of the danger or give us access for a certain time period during which no work is going on.
19. What other issues are you facing regarding this?
There is a show ‘Fuhtaru YDP’ program. We are having trouble conducting this program regularly due to limitations in funding. We have requested help from the government as well. Surfers association is also having trouble in terms of fund availability.
Body boarding has become a national sport since last year as we are receiving great achievements. Still we are struggling in terms of funding. I am talking as a member of the association. It has been very difficult since the ‘Varunula Raalhugandu’ area was closed off to everyone.
And we have so much difficulty finding fund to go abroad for various competitions. The government does give us fund and they asked us to submit all necessary docs regularly and they will assist in the future. But sometimes, things don’t go as planned.
I wanted to participate in the Australian tour in the off season this year, conducted by ABA, Association of Body Boarding Australia. I was willing to stay there because our government agreed that I could go and stay there for about 4 months. And all funds will be provided. Everything was planned that way for this year. But it didn’t work out.
Sportsmen will need acknowledgement and support from others, especially the government. This could become the strongest sport in Maldives.
Surfing is the only sport that can bring income to our country. Diving isn’t really a sport. But Body boarding is. And so many people around the world visit Maldives and participate in this sport because it is so suitable to our Oceans.
Among sports, surfing is the biggest game that can generate the most income. Foreigners love our lifestyle and surf fashions. Surfing is something that is very fitting to our community and environment.
20. What is your greatest strength?
21. What is your greatest weakness?
There’s no weakness I guess
22. What do you, personally, spend most of your time on?
Before, always in the sea. Very easy answer. If Male’ ‘Varunula Raalhugandu’ was open, that would be the sea, that's how it has been for the past 15 years. Other than that I hang out with my friends.
I also play volleyball. It started during the ‘Save our waves’ campaign. It was one event where people in different crowds worked together despite their differences. Youngsters and Oldies were united and since then we started coming together to play beach Volley in the evening.
It has become a regular custom. And I want to hold this community together, a great vibe was developed where so many different people united to stand for one reason.
23. Are you a people person?
No. I have selective friends. At first I just observe and it takes time to get close.
24. What is your favorite memory?
There are 3 favorite memories.
First one is, the year when I got ‘Ummedhee Raalhaa Erun Theriya’, my first achievement. I was surprised I didn’t even know there was such an award.
Second memory, during the first international competition held in Malaysia where I got first place.
Third memory, The Youth sports award, where I got Gold Medal at Maldives National Sports Award 2011, given by the former president Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), as an appreciation for all my work.
25. Who is the most important person in your life?
My mother, brother, family and friends.
My Mother is my rock, I came this far because of her.
My motivation is my brother. He is my best friend. There is nothing he doesn’t know about me. He always looks out for me and gives me advice. And his advice has always proved to be right.
26. What advice would you give your younger Self?
As a sportsman, I’ll say don’t give up on what you like doing.
Regarding life, just be yourself and take whatever you do, think about your limit. Don’t go overboard.
27. How do you determine a true friend from a fake one?
Can identify only after you hang with them for a while. A person cannot be judged instantly unless you spend some time with them. I am not a very friendly person, but I am friends with everyone, but I keep my limit. I always appreciate my fans and friends.
There are times when people ask about very personal things, but I would just limit what I say, however as a sportsman, I would always answer.
28. Who is the most influential person to you?
29. What changes do you think should be made to improve our society?
Youngsters today grow up too fast and cross that limit. Just be on your limit. Even I was a fun loving person as a kid, but there should be a limit to everything. The youth today think they know everything, and realize only after something bad happens. So all I want to say is think before you act.
30. What is the message that you want to tell our community or the world?
“Live and Let live”
Live freely and stop violence and work for a better future. Work as one and develop the community.
The Fun Qs:
1. What/who would you go to jail for?
For surfing. And I have even been to jail once. That was during the time the ‘Varunula Raalhugandu’ area was closed off, I just wanted to surf. I knew it wasn’t a good thing to do. But surfing in that water is part of us, and we miss it.
My friends and I, went into the sea once, with foam boards after we were done playing volley. Our intention wasn’t to surf, we went to wash our feet, but it was like a calling and all of us just went in.
A police launch came at that time and we apologized. Our intention wasn’t to disrupt any authority, only to once again surf those waves.
2. If you could be any color, which color would you be? Why?
I have a favorite color, but I don’t want to be a color
3. If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
What comes to mind first is Spiderman, but that was as a Kid. Now, I want everyone’s super powers.
4. Do you believe in love at first sight?
Maybe. "Love at first sight could happen to anything"
5. What’s the most interesting thing about you that no one knows?
Few people know, so I don’t want to say it.
6. What were you like in high school? Geek, bully, do-gooder etc.?
I was a good person.
7. Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman? Why?
Of course Spiderman. He has a super power, but batman doesn’t. He’s a normal guy with a brilliant brain.
8. If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be? Why?
Dolphin, there’s no why, it’s obvious.
9. The most embarrassing thing that happened to you
It was a very funny incident, but when you think about it, it was embarrassing. I had to run through the airport, at full speed, without paying attention to other people there, TWICE!
First incident was in Singapore, after finishing the Aussie competition; we were heading back to Maldives. We were just waiting there for like 5 hours, but at the wrong terminal, and the board did not display our flight details.
Even our manager didn’t know. We checked the time and flight details and asked at the information counter. It was then that we were told there was only 15 minutes remaining and final call had long been announced.
To change terminals, you had to get on the subway, we were new to the airport, and we were freaking out. People were waiting for us in Male’, we had to get on that flight.
Among us, there was a boy, Sham who got junior champion ship. He was completely new to another country. A very good athlete. He got on the subway before all of us, but got out because we hadn’t reached it. As we got on the train he got off from the opposite side and the doors closed shut.
I gestured with my hands that the train will come within 2 minutes, so to wait there.
When we reached the terminal, I sent the other 2 guys to the gate to inform airport authorities that we were on our way and to wait for us.
I didn’t know whether Sham even understood what I had gestured, I was waiting there on a 50% chance that he will come. Fortunately, he understood what I had said and came with the next train.
As the train stopped, both of us sprinted into a run at full speed. Our gate was at the end of the hall. We were completely out of breath when we reached the gate. Only then did we realize everyone was starting at us. We ran through the crowd pushing people away yelling ‘excuse me’.
The second incident was in Malaysia. Similar situation, running through the airport, just with different people.
10. What things in life is still a mystery to you?
There’s nothing really, but I do wonder if I would ever see an unnatural and unique wave, something unexplored.
11. What's the one question you wished someone would ask you?
I really don’t know. No one has ever asked me that question.
“I would like to thank all my sponsors, especially seaports since 2005. My supporters and family and friends for all the love given to me”