"It's the best old-boy wave in the world," was how old-boy Shane Dorian summed up Sultans, the venue for the Maldives Champions Trophy, while freesurfing a few days ago. It's kind of like a tropical version of Victoria's Winkipop – long, lined up, occasionally mushy, but getting better the further you go down the reef. Shane caught a couple more set waves and re-evaluated his claim. "You know what? Don't worry about the old boys. You could actually run a Tour event here, easy. This wave is way better than Trestles and way more consistent than Tahiti. Can you imagine what Jordy Smith or Filipe Toledo would do with that wave?"
Shane's son, Jackson, was worried about his dad surfing over here in the Maldives this week. He wasn't worried, however, in the same way he might worry when Shano surfs Jaws. The Maldives rarely borders on life-threatening. Jackson told Shano he was worried that his dad wouldn't cut it. That his old boy, was, in fact, really old. Young Jacko told Old Shano, "You know there are gonna be pro surfers there, right?" Young Jacko needn't have worried, because Shane's old bones have been moving just fine this week. He made the dimensional jump from Jaws to twin-fins without a hitch. It's been kind of nice watching Shane surf a board under 10'8", a board that actually turns, and seeing some of the flashy, gecko-handed karate snaps that characterized Shano's surfing years ago.
Yesterday, they surfed the last round: the thruster division.
After a couple of days of singles and twins being too hot and too cold, the surfers were almost relieved to finally surf boards that were just right, and set about on an entertaining day's ripping.
The final day had interrupted what's been a luxury resort holiday for these guys and their respective partners, and the prospect of a $10,000 check being handed to the winner ensured things would get a little more spirited toward the end of the day. Talking with Rob Machado in the morning, he mentioned he'd just competed in a contest back at home with a $100 first prize, and admitted he actually wanted to win the thing. Bad. But both Rob and Taj reckoned the return next year – the winner gets a Golden Ticket back to the Maldives – was the real carrot.
Having Bethany Hamilton in the field – the only women in the field – was always going to be interesting when that big ol' prize check loomed and she was surfing against guys who were fairly motivated to get their hands on it. Would they go 100% against her? Would they throw a wave her way when she needed it?
It never got to that, because Bethany caught the first wave of the day yesterday morning, and absolutely flame-grilled it. Like, four upside-down, squared-up backhand blasts, disappearing all the way around the corner of the island. It dropped as a high eight, and suddenly, Taj, Jamie O'Brien and Travis Logie were all in legit trouble. The early big score in the end worked against Bethany, as she sat and waited for the rest of the heat for a second wave that never came. Surfing with her over the past few days, though, you get to see at close range how damn incredible she is. The surfing is one thing, but what sits underneath it is a refined sense of where she is – and needs to be – in the lineup. She's never out of position, even in a lineup that was moving around a bit.
In the end, the thruster final came down to Taj and Shane, who by this stage had the place dialed and were flying down the reef at Sultans. "It's kinda like I always wanted to find a right like Macaronis in Indo," said Taj later, "and while this isn't quite the same as Macaronis, Shano and I were sitting out there losing it about how rippable that wave was. There were so many options, you couldn't choose what turn to do. The lip was just begging for it."
The pair then turned around and had to surf the overall final, straight away, straight up, no break. The old bones really were groaning by then. They were into their fourth hour of surfing and the pair started to gas. Taj hadn't helped himself in the first heat of the morning by surfing a wave the entire length of the reef, thinking the heat had already started. Since retiring from the Tour back in June, Taj has done plenty of good living while clocking a total of zero training days. "It got the heart rate up out there," he said back on the boat. "I was trying my guts out on every wave, so it definitely wasn't relaxing. It's a cruisey, relaxing event ,which is true, but if you throw a singlet on any of us, we're going to battle to the death, so as relaxing as it's been on land, it was intense in the water."
Shano somehow managed to break a board in the final, by which stage Taj had already earned a handy lead, a lead he didn't surrender. "It was so sick to surf a final with Shano. Through my gromhood, he was my favorite surfer by a mile. I used to try and copy everything he did and he's been one of my favorites forever, so it was sick to trade waves with him. Shano was so hard to beat out there, dropping the biggest scores, and the prick just wouldn't fall off. He made every turn."
After a week of five-star resort living and perfect surf, Taj got back to the contest boat and laughed. "Now I can really relax! That's one of the best weeks of my life. You couldn't ask for much more. We've been incredibly spoiled this week, but it was hard work out there. Shit." He guzzled a beer. "I thought I retired from this shit! Get me back to Paradise Island!"