Nominated as one of the most influential people in travel by Condé Nast Traveller last year, Ross Phillips was one of the founders of luxury surfing. We caught up with him to talk about Tropicsurf‘s partnership with Four Seasons Resorts Maldives, the future of luxury surfing, and the upcoming 10th Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy

Ross Phillips, founder of Tropicsurf

You have been mentioned in Conde’ Nast Traveller as one of the people who have changed the way we travel. How did you conceive the idea of luxury surfing?

Teaching people how to surf at my surfing school in Noosa, Australia in the 90s, I met a family who wanted to go on a surfing holiday to the Maldives with me as their coach. They shared their experiences of poor accommodation they’d stayed in during past surf holidays and it got me thinking… Why wasn’t there any decent accommodation for surfers? Surfing was always considered a young person’s sport but with the resurrection of the longboard in the 80s, the now dads and moms (who had been avid surfers in the 70s) got back into surfing. They’d grown up, had corporate jobs and money to spend. This family were the ones who opened my eyes to the opportunities ahead.

Tell us how it all started at Four Seasons Kuda Huraa

The Resort was close to world-class waves like Sultans and Honkeys and I thought I should go talk to them. I arrived one day on a little dinghy, unannounced at the main jetty, wearing my surfing gear with zinc all over my face. I just said, “Hey, I’d like to have a look at a room, get a brochure and get some information.” Part of me thought they were just going to kick me out but instead they said, “Certainly sir,” and offered me a refreshing drink, a cold towel and had a buggy ready to drive me around the property. I secured an appointment with the then General Manager, Armando Kraenzlin – but this time, I wore a proper shirt – and suggested the Resort should consider having a resident surf coach at the Resort. Here we are today, 20 years on, with an amazing partnership that has extended to five other Four Seasons properties around the world.

What does luxury surfing hold for the future? What are the latest trends?

We continue to build our education program and have just released a new skill manual for our guides so that they constantly improve as surfing coaches. Trends now include travelling to do challenging, meaningful activities that have the potential to transform lives, plus customised surfing holidays with a private guide, private boat and seaplane: curated, bespoke experiences. I recently read how for the first time in history, humans are overwhelmed with choice and there’s an anxiety that goes with that. I see Tropicsurf’s job as whittling away the choices to present our customers with the best experiences. On a different note, I’m very interested in meditation and have realised that every time I get in the ocean I’m in a mindful state. People are looking for wellness and mindfulness escapes and surfing can provide that, just not as we (think we) know it. In this time and age, we have less and less freedom because we are connected all the time. The ocean is one of the last remaining bastions of freedom and it must stay that way.

A Seaplane Surfing Safari on the Four Seasons Flying Triggerfish with Tropicsurf guides – an extraordinary experience exclusive to Four Seasons Resorts Maldives

Tropicsurf runs surfing cruises on Four Seasons Explorer. What do you like best about them?

I think it’s the best surf trip in the world. The boat is geared up for groups with its 11 cabins and you can have 10 single surfers as easily as 10 couples plus one Tropicsurf guide. The boat travels at a much higher speed than most vessels which means we get a greater choice of surf breaks; the kind of flexibility that gives the best customer experience. No boat does it better than Four Seasons Explorer. The 70s themed parties during Tropicsurf’s summer surfing charters have become the stuff of legend: fancy dress costumes, 70s music… everyone has a ball.

The 9th edition of the SCT (Surfing Champions Trophy) just ended. What’s your fondest memory of this epic event throughout the years?

One of the highlights for me was seeing the rivalry between Australian Mark Occhilupo and American Tom Curren first-hand. They had always been sports rivals, in the way only prodigies can be. We had them both here in Kuda Huraa competing in the semi-final in one of the earlier Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy. When they returned from the heat you could feel the tension between them, they were looking opposite ways on the tender bringing them back to Four Seasons Explorer. That same evening, however, at our nightly sundowner event they were singing and playing guitar arm in arm – best friends again. To see that intense rivalry and then the respect and friendship all in one day, that’s what surfing is all about.

From left to right: Ross Phillips, Josh Kerr (2018 and 2019 Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy champion) and Dianne Phillips

How do you think the event has improved over the years?

The surfing standards have risen exponentially as the surfers we now invite have only been retired for, say, one year as opposed to 10. This makes it more exciting for viewers to watch and their performance here at the Surfing Champions Trophy is often better than on the World Tour.

What could we expect for the 10th edition?

Mmmm… what I want to see for the 10th edition? Kelly Slater.

An official invitation has just been made. 😉

To join Ross and the rest of the Tropicsurf team on a surf expedition on Four Seasons Explorer click here. And to find out more about the 10th Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, contact our Reservations team on reservations.mal@fourseasons.com or click here.

 

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