Island life is unique - but things become infinitely cooler if you're getting paid to do what you truly love. By featuring amazing people doing awesome work, The Edition hopes to inspire new generations into hospitality - the backbone of Maldives' economy.
“To be honest, I feel like I’m living a dream”, is what Azhoora Ahmed has to say about her job, sitting bright-eyed and grinning across from me at the ‘Mihiree Mithaa’ bar in Soneva Fushi.
Fondly known as Azhoo, the Surf Experience Manager for the Soneva resorts in Maldives celebrated her first year at the renowned luxury brand on November 1 this year. Vivacious and enthusiastic, it is clear that her passion for her work has not dimmed in the least - the fortuitous result of being able to pursue what she loves as a career.
“I’ve had experience working with resorts before, but never did I think about living and working in one”, muses Azhoora as she looks back on how she entered the field of hospitality.
“My background is in events management. I was an event manager for a company before I did my Master’s”, she says, explaining how much of her work involved collaborations with several resorts, such as the organisation of Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties.
However, fortune lay in her path as, right after she completed her Master’s Degree in Tourism, Hotel and Events Management at the University of Queensland, she received the unexpected opportunity to join Soneva as their Surf Experience Manager.
“Surfing is such a big passion of mine so I thought, why not”, she laughs. “Go for it! I never thought of surfing or anything surf-related as a career, but it sounded like a really exciting position - which it is.”
Her abundant love for the waves is apparent in the glow her face takes on as she tells us about her work; in particular, the Soneva Surf programme.
“It’s the very first fully sustainable surf programme in the Maldives and that was what made this opportunity even more attractive to me. And yeah, I’m loving every single day of it!”
For Azhoora, mornings begin with checking the surf forecasts and wave conditions, gleaning a sense of what the water will bring and planning out her day accordingly, which includes surf trips and/or lessons.
“As the Surf Experience Manager, I manage the surf bookings and look after all the in-house surfing guests with the help of my surf instructor”, she explains.
Her day varies depending on the activities planned. While surf lessons take place in Soneva Fushi’s lagoon or at a nearby sandbank, more intermediate surfers usually book surf trips where they will go with the surf team to any of the reef breaks around the atoll.
Azhoora is also a member of the core team of ‘Soneva Namoona’, an “exemplary” initiative geared towards the community, which aims to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics, recycle and promote zero waste, and inspire ocean stewardship.
“A typical day for me involves more than looking over the surf activities. I also work on coordinating and organising different Namoona project events and activities”, says Azhoora, highlighting the organisation of the Soneva Surf Pro Competitions she led this year, which was held in both Baa and Noonu Atoll.
She also noted with pride that the Soneva Surf programme has introduced surfing to over 180 students in seven different islands in Baa Atoll and two islands in Noonu Atoll this year alone, as part of Soneva’s endeavours to introduce more local children to the sport.
Azhoora does not even hesitate before she gushes, “That’s a very easy one - that I get to surf while I work!”
“I feel so blessed and am thankful that I get to do what I love while I’m on the job and I get paid for it”.
For Azhoora, her current position is like a dream. “I have so much flexibility to work with, while I try to steer the surf programme in the direction where it can be more prominent in the international surfing market. It keeps me interested and excited as I even get to put my event management skills to use, while I organise surfing events … sometimes I feel like I need to pinch myself”, she laughs.
“Any job would have its challenges. As for me… surf breaks can be inconsistent, so it’s a challenge to figure out pre-bookings”, she explains.
“Sometimes guests may visit for a short week expecting to surf; however, all surfing activities really depend on mother nature’s mood”.
“I think the tourism industry offers a lot”, says Azhoora thoughtfully.
“Any field you’re in, you can still work at a resort doing the same thing, and have a very fulfilling career”.
“You have several perks working in a resort … you get to meet really inspirational people from all over the world, and you work and live with people from around the Maldives. You learn a lot through networking and socialising, just like you would while travelling”.
“To live next to a very consistent surf break!”
As our interview draws to a close, Azhoora glances around at the palm trees and darkening horizon visible beyond the bar and smiles.
“Working at Soneva as a brand has been the most wonderful experience because we’re pioneers in everything we do. So, with all the different types of projects we have, any of our hosts would get to be a part of them if they’re interested”.
“I feel so lucky to have been here when the Namoona Baa project started. All the values and principles we focus on are so close to my heart, as we help our very own local islands to progress in the way Soneva has with sustainability”.