“You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first, and then Heaven. And that Heaven was copied after Mauritius.” Thatīs what Mark Twain once wrote about Mauritius. Uli Hoelzl has visited this stunningly beautiful place and has all the info for a heavenly journey.
About 850 kilometers to the east of the coast of Madagascar the island of Mauritius appears like a shining green-blue eye amidst the intense blues of the Indian Ocean, on an area of 1,865 square kilometers. „The paradise“ you would like to shout out totally overwhelmed in the same manner as Mark Twain already wrote down enthusiastically 100 years ago. But no expression is more pathetic and all-time used as this one. You get in a kind of dilemma –  what else is to say – if you really land in the Garden of Eden and especially if you are a water addicted person in search of the best waves in the world?

A six weeks tour of PWA worldcups was just over. A great but exhausting time in a lot of choppy, flat-water conditions, no real clean wave sailing. With the prize money I won, I could finance a dream. I wanted to travel to this beautiful place in the Indian Ocean at the time when all the winter swells from Cape Horn would hit the island and the powerful and mythic „One Eye“ wave would peel down the line. And here I was! Mauritius is known to be „the“ honeymoon island, with only luxury hotels, rich people coming to play golf and to wellness. But against its reputation it is easily possible to organise a very cheap trip by renting an apartment or house in the local villages and by booking low prized flights in the Internet.

After a direct non stop night flight from Munich I landed early morning on the jewel in the Indian Ocean. Friends of mine had already been here for two weeks and came to pick me up with their cool pick up. I put my gear on the loading space and there we go. I was still kind of tired from the long night flight, but the one and a half hour drive from the „Plaisance“ airport in the southeast of the island to our village „La Gaulette“ in the southwest corner was just breathtaking and overwhelming! The sun was just rising and it must have been raining in the night, as the air was so fresh and all colours of the plants, cane fields and flowers were shining brightly. The peaks of the mountains were still covered in clouds, rainbows shining over green valleys. And most of all the turquoise, green and blue lagoons and the white spray of the waves breaking over he outside reefs convinced me that I arrived at the place to be!

Where and What

As already said Mauritius lies in the Tropic of the Capricorn, 800 kilometers east of Madagascar, 200 kilometers to the northeast of Reunion and 600 kilometers to the west of Rodriguez. It is about 60 kilometers north to south and 50 kilometers east to west. Most of the coastal area, surrounded by coral reefs, offers magnificent beaches of fine sand and lagoons where nothing comes to mar the perfect transparency of the water, with shades ranging from emerald green to deep blue. Seven to eight million years ago the island was generated out of the ocean by vulcanoes. The descent of the lava earth was responsible for the creation of coral reefs. The mountain chains of Moka, Black River and Grand Port, Plaine des Papayes in the north and Plaine Magnien in Grand Port, the lakes of Mare au Vacoas and Grand Bassin and numerous bays and coves are a testimony to the geographic diversity of the scenery.

A brief history of everything

It is believed that in the 10th century the island was visited by the Arabs who named it „Dina Arobi“. The latter were not even interested in this uninhabited land, where no commercial exchanges were possible. It is only in the 15th century, when the Europeans discovered the island. Like so many paradise islands in the tropics, Mauritius (named after Prince Maurice de Nassau of the Netherlands) over the centuries was colonised by most of the major seafaring nations. The Portuguese stumbled over it 1498 but didn’t have much of a mark apart from introducing rats and monkeys. Pedro Mascarenhas discovered neighbouring Reunion Island and gave his name to the Mascareignes archipelago, made up of three islands, Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues.

The Dutch then arrived in 1598. Over the next hundred years they introduced slaves, sugar cane, deer, wild boar and tobacco. In that short period they were also responsible for the extinction of the sweet, docile and all too trusting „Dodo“ bird. Also the big turtles were extinguished by being used as „living meat reserve“ on the ships of these seafaring nations. It wasn’t the happiest time, blighted by cyclones and other natural disasters and the Dutch left in 1710 to be replaced by the French, who built roads, hospitals and sugar mills, and generally provided infrastructure and stability.

The capital „Port Luis“ became a free trading base and therefore a haven for pirates. Tired of having their ships plundered, the Brits moved in on the „Corsairs“, as they were known in 1810. While they were at it, they took the island off the French, but generously left them their language, religion, Napoleonic legal system and sugar plantations. In 1835, they freed the slaves. The sugar cane industry depended on cheap labour, so that is when literally thousands of workers were drafted in from India to keep it going. Hindus now make up over 50 percent of the population. Mauritius gained its independence from Britain on 12th march 1968, when Dr.Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became Prime Minister. Itīs his long and barely pronounceable name that adorns the international airport. In 1992 the island officialy became a republic.

With such a history and subject to so many influences, Mauritius now comprises an ethnic mix of amazing religious, cultural and lingual diversity. The various fractions seem to live in unforced harmony. I just loved it! You may be spoken to in French, English or Creole. Nearly all of the 1,2 million inhabitants speak Creole which is not yet recognised as official language, but gives the people kind of their own identity! Religious faith is very much in evidence in this island where Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists live together. During the last few years, Mauritius has undergone a change to enter a new era. Tall buildings, shopping centres, and outlets stand out as landmarks over the island. The economic success of this tiny country surprises with a free zone, an offshore centre, a free port, textile, tourism, sugar cane growing and progressive technology. All that development does not mean that the relaxed and easy way of life has disappeared. Like in olden days the fragrance of spices lingers onshore while the omnipresent smile reflect the welcome of a nation who has kept a way of life very much in accordance with nature. The atmosphere of serenity is a reality!

So driving along the coastline to our apartment at 7 in the morning the streets were already filled with people. Between the cane fields and little villages we stumbled also across Hindu temples. We could observe workers riding their bike to the sugarcane factories, women working on the fields, children waiting for the buses to go to school, fishermen lifting their boats out of the water after an early morning fishing session, and people coming home from a night drinking, partying or dancing Seggae. I didnīt see those luxury hotels I was talked about, maybe they were hidden behind big fences or just were not located at this part of the island. All I saw was a poor but friendly rural population, living in simple poor huts, selling their fruits and veggies in front of their doors. We stopped at a roadside „snackery“ and the spicy homemade tid-bits had a delicious Indian flavour. Even the „kitchen” is a mixture of influences. My first impression was everything but an island only for the privileged people, which made it even more interesting. The look of the people, itīs a touch Indian, maybe a hint of European, actually they are just Mauritian, a nation unto themselves!

The Spot

After unpacking it was finally time to go directly to the beach. The main spot besides many other spots on the island, which I will describe later is called „Le Morne“ situated at the southwest corner of the island watched by the prominent mountain „Le Morne Brabant“ ( “Morne” means small mountain and “Brabant” was the name of a ship which ran adrift here on the 29th December 1783). At that place the southeast passat gets accelerated around the mountain and the south- to southwest swells hit the reefs with full power. Before going out the first time I seriously recommend you to inform yourself about the spot, the reefs and the dangerous currents. Felix, the Boss from the only surf station at this place will be happy to explain you everything. To understand how the really, really very dangerous currents work, it is also helpful to climb the mountain „Le Morne Brabant“. I did that at one of those „closed out"  days. After two hours walk I had a stunning view from the Top over the whole spot and the reefs and got aware of the dimensions of all the channels.

Just to say right from the beginning the spot offers perfect conditions for everybody and every level of sailing. You just have to be honest to yourself concerning your sailing ability. Right in front of the parking lot you can rig your sail in the grass, just walk over the whitest sand beach and there you are taking a bath in the crystal-clear water of the lagoon. Depending on the tide, the depth of the flat-water lagoon is between half a meter and one meter. It is perfect for freestylers and beginners here. Just don’t get too close to the reefs if the swell is big. Then even in the lagoon the currents can get really nasty. Swimming or walking back to the beach with broken equipment is just NOT possible!! There are three different reef brakes on the outside that vary from the mellow to the fully suicidal.

Straight in front of your launch spot, about 200 meters on the outside, you have first of all the „little inner reef“ with a depth of about one meter. With most of the time perfect side shore conditions and a wave up to three meters I had great jumping sessions over there. The wave riding is good, but not that perfect, as the wave can get very choppy, because of yes again the currents which directly pass by exactly here, to suck the water from the Lagoon to the big channel and then further to the outside - direction Madagascar. Just to the right, a bit downwind, of Little Reef, lies Chameau Reef. The Twin peaks of this crushing wave obviously remind of that humped animal. Chameau can provide really good wave sailing, if it is small. I mean really small, because then you still find three meters there. Otherwise it is the most dangerous place on that spot with corals looking out of the water like mushrooms and the water just inches deep under the impact zone. Once I broke my material there and with the current pulling me over the reefs and channels in a big circle over more than one hour and I knew, although I am not scared, that without the rescue boat and my friends I wouldn’t have seen the shore again. Don’t go there without any open sea experience!

Continuing to the right of Chameau the world famous „One eye“ reef is thundering in some 400 meters downwind. For Wave specialists only! It is the most beautiful wave I have ever seen, a world class wave, fast, peeling, often hollow, uncompromising, huge and leaves very little room for error. More about that in a moment. The third reef brake is „Manawa“. It is maybe the best wave for an average wave sailor to get used to big wave sailing. It is upwind from the launch and, this is the only negative thing about one kilometer to the outside. So first of all you have to go upwind and cross the big big main-channel. Then you already see the perfect mountains rolling on to the reef, which is here about two meters deep. The wave is peeling very nice, can reach up to six meters, is not too powerful and really easy to predict. After jibing out of the wave, you just sail upwind again in the channel without having to cross the braking waves and take your next one... if it is not too crowded!! Riding one big wave after the other with dry hair and enjoying the beautiful view towards the beach and the Brabant is one of those great experiences on that place!

Dialog with the Ocean

After about 10 days of sailing I got pretty used to the spot and I felt confident with my equipment. We nearly had wind every day, the waves were good as well. But not perfect yet. Maybe my expectations are quite high. But this day seemed to be one of those days. Those days you have three times a year, if you are lucky although you sail a lot. Those days you remember forever, which give you energy for the whole year. The swell forecast was just perfect. Swell direction south-southeast with 4.5 meters, which meant that it was big, but sailable, as the channels are not yet totally closing out. Already in the morning I stepped out on the terrace of our apartment in La Gaulette, 8 kilometers distance to the spot, and I saw the outside reefs of the lagoon in La Gaulette breaking. A good sign! Arriving at the beach there were only a few people sailing in the lagoon, nobody in the waves. All were watching this spectacle. „One Eye“ definitely deserved its reputation.

Perfect lines peeling down the line for 400 meters. Powerful, hollow, turquoise dangerous walls crashing on the reef only 30 centimeters deep. Fast, very fast but doable. It was constant mast high, was some sets of over five meters. The typical surfers talking was going on at the beach: „ Shit it is big, the reef it is too shallow it is still low tide, the currents are too strong, the wind is light and too offshore, the next rain shower is already coming and then the wind will totally die." A lot of talking just to find excuses for themselves not to go out. But actually on a day like this it is better if some people stay on the beach anyway. I didn’t join the people it just would have made me scared. Not to say I was not nervous. I also had this certain feeling in my stomach, but isn’t it exactly that feeling I was looking for?

I searched a silent place under the pine trees and did my yoga and stretching exercises to wake up my body, imaging my turns on the wave, still observing the spot. Then I rigged my 4.7 sail, told my friends to have an eye on me if something would happen, and sailed out there. I felt good on my board today. I speeded downwind to the little channel at the end of One Eye. My god, I just love that sport! I had to jibe several times in the save lagoon in front of the channel as it was closing out with the big sets. After the last wave of a big set it was time to take speed and sail out into the open ocean. Once in the channel there is no way back. The current was too strong to keep on planning, but I kept the balance on my board and the current took me drifting to the outside. I just managed to pass over the waves of the next big set. The adrenalin was rising. The view I was offered when I looked upwind to the breaking waves of this set was more than breathtaking. One perfect hollow wave after the other, I could directly look inside the green tube, the spray arising eight meters at the back of the waves.

continue with part 2


text: Uli Hoelzl , photos: John Carter, Michael Kalensky, Uli Hoelzl Đ windgirls 2006