Necklace of God

  • This story originally appeared on Zigzag Magazine's Website on 20 APRIL, 2016


The Maldives, Mala Deva, is a dreamscape for many adventurous surfers. ‘The necklace of God’, is a three part story following a mixed bag of surfers into the tropics for a 10 day surf charter adventure. All words and images ©Nick Aldridge.


The world rocks like a boat in the channel. I dream of coral bottom barrels, warm as a bath, the flow of swell refracting impossibly around the reef in a crazy horseshoe that leaves me facing the place where I took off.

I push under and parrot and butterfly fish scoot away. I dream of a tropical island with perfect waves, white beaches, palm trees and crystal water lapping at my feet under bright blue skies. I dream of ocean crossings, watching atolls and islands drift by and disappear into the blue horizon. I dream of perfect four foot waves, clean offshores and only a couple of friends out. I dream of sleepy islanders emerging from their houses as the relative cool of sunset makes an evening stroll with friends nothing but a pleasure after a long hot tropical day.

Disorientated, I wake up in a stripped-bare hotel room that still sways as I stagger to the shower, under a cranky ceiling fan, wondering when my world stopped being the perfect simplicity of life on a charter boat.


The Maldives. Mala Deva, Sanskrit for ‘the necklace of god’. A chain of atolls strung in a vertical line just south west of Sri Lanka. The atolls mark the crater rims of ancient volcanoes. Atolls contain atolls within the atolls, circles inside circles in a kind of oversized series of cell diagrams from biology class.

We cross the street from the airport, jump on a ferry and head out into the parking lot of super yachts for the mega-rich, looking for our home for the next 10 days. The Hamathi is an 80ft surf charter, run by True Blue Travel in partnership with ‘Perfect Wave’, that earns its crust ferrying surf tourists, like me, through the uncrowded waters of the Central Atolls. The boat is perfect. Simple, yet comfortable.

Unlike the experience of being on a boat trip with a bunch of your mates, we’re a ragtag group of individuals. It’s a lucky packet surf trip. A group of strangers thrown together in a confined space for 10 days, united only by our enthusiasm for surfing and the fact that we’ve all managed to stump up the cash to pay for the experience. A benign group of white men, mostly with kids, mostly in our 40’s and early 50’s. Living the dream? A modern reflection of the old surf cliché.

We come to relish the drone of the motors and the gentle listing of the Hamathi as she cuts through the viscous blue, it’s the sound of not needing to be anywhere else, not having to do anything other than watch the horizon, surf that wave, drink this beer. My phone is off. I’ve forgotten to set an out-of-office thingy on my email, but fuck it, I’m not a heart surgeon, no one’s gonna die if I’m AWOL.

By the third day, I can’t remember the names of the places we’ve been and the waves we’ve surfed. It’s only by looking at my photographs that I have a vague recollection of spaces and times that are not the present. I don’t know where we are on a map and I’m not 100% sure where we’re going, because I don’t have to think about any of that.

The Maldives, Mala Deva, is a dreamscape for many adventurous surfers. ‘The necklace of God’, is a three part story following a mixed bag of surfers into the tropics for a 10 day surf charter adventure. All words and images ©Nick Aldridge.


Surf travel has changed. Or maybe I just couldn’t afford this kind of surf travel before. We don’t have to explore or think too much. We don’t have to suffer to get to the perfect surf. Someone will take care of it. I’ve never imagined myself on this kind of trip. But there is a deep sense of contentment amongst our motley crew. They’ve worked hard to get here.

Chris grafts ten hours a day in the blazing sun fitting roofs in Australia, comes home to look after three girls under 8 years old as his wife goes off to teach at night school, and then puts in three more hours on the admin after the kids are asleep. Everyday. He surfs, eats, sleeps and reads novels and laughs quietly at the banter over meals. He deserves this. The other guys on the boat are no different. By the sweat of your brow you’ll get to go on boat trips with your bros.

And while the Hamathi bobs on the tides of this hard-earned idyllic escapism, the resource that fuels the country’s economy, the reality of the Maldives shimmers as if in another dimension.

It is well known that the Maldives is the lowest country on earth, a string of islands on the verge of being wiped off the map by rising sea levels caused by global warming. Swallowed entirely by humanity’s indifference. Beneath the surface, and on page five of the international political headlines, this is functionally a one-party-state, where the nation’s first and only ever democratically-elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, a former human rights activist who brought the country’s environmental plight to global attention, is now serving a 13-year prison sentence on politically motivated charges of ‘terrorism’.

Posters and graffiti around Malé town demand the release of their ‘Climate Hero’. The social and environmental activism of the imprisoned ex-president Nasheed are a distasteful smudge on the marketing strategies of the Maldives property / political elite who run the country’s tourism industry. Politics, environmentalism and democracy really (or is that rarely) interfere with the story of escapism that Maldives tourism sells the world. The island chain seems to exist solely as a playground for our sterile nouveau-riche tropical fantasies.

On a boat trip in the Maldives you will not be challenged. The locals will not bother you in the line-up. This isn’t Uluwatu, or J-Bay, or the Gold Coast, where the residents surf better than you. There is only this endless horizontal blue line punctuated occasionally by the blips of coral and palms trees, like the pulse on a dying man’s heart rate monitor. The Maldives is like a blank canvas, depopulated and packaged for sale so you can occupy it, for a price, and fill up the space, momentarily, with your dream of paradise that invariably reflects your version of tropical surf adventure back at yourself – to be shared on Facebook later, of course. For you the national language is English (it’s actually Dhihevi) and the currency US Dollars (it’s actually the Rufiyaa). Because you, the visitor, will never see behind the curtain of this extremely private place.