It is no coincidence that Apocalypse Now was written by a surfer (John Milius, who also made Big Wednesday). When an epic swell hits, surfers often think in terms of the end of the world.
For once, the myth is liable to come true in the Maldive Islands, the seemingly idyllic setting for the O'Neill Deep Blue surf contest, part of the Association of Surfing Professionals' World Qualifying Series. Barely poking up out of the Indian Ocean not much higher than a periscope, the Maldives look as though they could be sunk by the next decent wave to come bowling up the beach. "If it ever gets massive here, they're going to lose a lot of land mass," said Sam Lamiroy, one of the English surfers at the O'Neill. "They need to start building stilts."
It is a natural for a surf contest: the whole country is almost nothing but a constellation of reefs and palm-trees and two or three-metre high turquoise tubes. "Atoll" is believed to be the only word to have been imported into English from Maldivian (or Dhivehi). But there is also a psychological affinity between the islands and surfers: the entire nation is living dangerously, perilously perched on the lip of a potential wipe-out, only a degree or two of global warming away from becoming the next Atlantis.
The Australian Trent Munro, known for his fearsome back-hand attack, perfectly suited to the long, lazy left-handers of Lohifushi Island, beat off three Brazilians in the final to take last month's third O'Neill Deep Blue Open. But the pervasive sense of living life on the edge explains why he dedicated his victory to Jay Moriarity, a Zen big-wave West Coast surfer who drowned here a couple of years ago while training by sitting on the seabed, holding his breath. Surfing lives by its martyrs.
The O'Neill boasted a 174-strong international field, in which England was ably represented by Jake Boex, Alan Stokes, Russell Winter, and Lamiroy. Watching Brits in surf contests, jockeying for position against Hawaiians, Aussies, Brazilians, and Californians, who surfed to school as kids, unless they just skipped school entirely, is like watching a skiing event in which they are up against Swiss, and Austrians: you tend to feel the opposition have a built-in, unfair advantage.
Lamiroy still gave one of his best recent performances, getting through the heats into the main event and the round of 64. He knew how to wait patiently and pick the right waves, and make the most radical manoeuvres out of them when they arrived. Afterwards he was philosophical. Following a string of slightly iffy events in which he has tended to miss out on the cut by the narrowest of margins, he reckoned that his best wave of the whole event, which scored 8.5 out of a possible 10, "reaffirms that my level of surfing is on a par with anyone's".
Describing this man's migratory life makes it sound as though he has won the lottery. He spends the winter in Hawaii, and then flies south for the summer. But he did it the hard way, working his way towards paradise through the purgatorial rigours of Newcastle. Having served his apprenticeship in the cold and murky waters of Tynemouth - his local break is known, as "the Black Middens" - Lamiroy has paid his dues.
"You can come out here at 5.0 or 5.30 in the morning," he said, "and hit the water and there's this terrible shock: it's wet, but it's warm." Used to wearing a double-thick wetsuit, hood and rubber boots on the North-east coast, the only major criticism of Lohifushi Lamiroy had to make was "it's almost too hot in shorts."
He fantasises about transporting waves to Newcastle. "There are some great reefs back home, only not enough waves. If only I could take some of the swell I've been getting, and maybe the water temperature too - and still have that special vibe you get surfing with your mates."
After a week teaching at the O'Neill Surf Academy in Croyde, Devon, his next stop involves flying out again to cruise around the Mentawi islands, off Indonesia. The Mentawis, says Lamiroy, are "like the Maldives, but on steroids. It's the skate-park of surfing: there are 20 waves, and it's like having a ramp where you can work on your tricks and techniques."
Lamiroy has noticed that fear of terrorism has kept the crowds down in Indonesia. But not only has he not changed his own globe-trotting habits, he sees a positive role for surfers in a world gripped by war and paranoia. A Hawaiian once said: "If only Saddam surfed, it would never have come to this."
Lamiroy takes the view that surfers can offer an alternative role model. "It falls to surfers to spread good things around the world, as opposed to viruses and hate, and show that not all westerners are war-mongering idiots."
As academy guru, he sees it as part of his job to pass on what he has learned. "It's great to be able to go back to England and say, 'I've been in a Muslim country and they're not all women-hating fanatics'."
Lamiroy would make a good ambassador, evangelist, or, better still, a UN mediator. "All we're really after is good waves, not oil or mineral rights. We hope to drag a few people along with us, spreading the surfing gospel along the way."Reuse content