Judith de la Rosa: caught in the spell of the Maldives
by Jorge Mezcua on Feb 17, 2023
Judith de la Rosa is one of those people who have the courage to follow their heart's desire to be happy. Like those who leave everything for love, she left Barcelona for a world that is inaccessible and incomprehensible to the vast majority, but that captures the minority who have ever used a regulator. Few people can understand how someone can find happiness in the Maldives, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, among coral gardens, manta rays cleaning stations and sharks, but according to her constant smile, the passion with which she talks about her Maldives and the sadness of her clients when they return home and leave Judith's company behind, this long and often misunderstood path has been worth it.
For all divers, someone to whom we will be eternally grateful, pushed us to dive. In the case of Judith, who started diving at the age of 20, it was her father: "He was an expert diver and from a very young age he instilled in me his great passion. The love for the sea is without a doubt the best legacy he left me". It was in the waters of Ibiza that she discovered the magic of the underwater world, and it was in the Red Sea that she was finally captured: "In 1998 I went to the Red Sea and the fascination grew, and it was then that I began to think that being a dive guide was a wonderful job".
The best decision of my life
A year after her Red Sea experience, Judith decided to pack her bags and go to dedicate her life to liveaboards in the Maldives. "I went on a cruise with a German instructor and saw a lot of sharks and manta rays," Judith recalls, "I came out of the water crying with emotion. And I cried all the way home... In fact, without knowing it at the time, that trip to the Maldives changed my life forever". Nearly 12 years later, he says it was the best decision he ever made, living the dream in one of the few places in the world where diving is everything: "Scuba diving in the Maldives is the most complete, varied, exuberant, respectful and developed in the world. It is a unique place in all of Asia because the quality of its diving is maintained all year round. There is no other destination in the world that can offer big and small life, I won't say guaranteed, but almost, all year round. And with waters always between 28º and 30º. It has the magic of being a "paradise on earth".
Vídeo by Javier Bermúdez Páez aboard the Southern Cross from Submaldives
Follow your heart
Often you just have to take that one step (in this case, a giant leap) that turns you into the person you really are, and in Judith's case that was locked up in her own business in Barcelona: "When I came back from my trip to the Maldives, I felt out of place. I tried to get on with my life, with my exclusive clothing shop in Sabadell, but I remember walking up to the door of the shop and saying to myself "what am I doing here, my place is in the Maldives". After a year of considering the possibility of leaving, she decided to listen to the man who instilled in her a love of the sea and introduced her to the world behind the mirror: her father: "Everyone around me thought I was crazy. Everyone except my father, who told me to do what my heart told me to do".
So one day she closed her shop and bought a ticket to the Maldives. "On my first trip, I asked the German on the cruise ship to give me a chance, even though I wasn't an instructor yet and didn't speak much English. He said okay, but he couldn't pay me, just teach me and let me try it for a month"... and he stayed for three months, which was nothing but a lot of work and enormous effort. "It wasn't easy: the work was hard, I had a lot of insecurities, I couldn't communicate, I was taking orders all day long... But every time I jumped in the water, it became clearer and clearer that this was my world".
Image courtesy by ©Carlos Suárez
At the end of those three months, and only because her visa had expired, she returned home to work on a recreational Turkish gulet that a friend of hers had in Ibiza, but always with the Maldives on the horizon... until the moment her father died and, perhaps as a great tribute, she decided to fulfill their dream. "I think it was at that moment that I realized," Judith recalls, "that my father would have wanted me to do what he could never do. I took my instructor course, worked on my English and after three years I began my journey with the Spanish divers".
One of the best liveaboard operators in the Maldives
When people talk about great underwater paradises, the Maldives is always one of the first places they mention. It is a country where people live in total and complete harmony with the sea, where diving tourism services are highly developed and where the government takes care of it so much that it makes it easy for many foreigners to settle there. "When I arrived in the Maldives, what I discovered was a place composed only of islands, more than 1,200 of which only about 250 are inhabited and the creation of Submaldives followed a natural process: I started with German, then a very important Spanish tour operator learned of my presence there and hired me."
Pic by ©Carlos Suárez
Hundreds of dives and constant exposure to the Maldivian dive life and industry gave him the opportunity to meet the best guide in the Maldives, "Hassan Shareef and I became close friends and time made us realize that our future lay in creating our own company, thus Submaldives was born". Hassan, his great teacher, has been teaching and guiding in the Maldives since 1994. His more than 12,000 dives in the local waters, together with Judith's 6,000 dives, his excellent customer service and his deep knowledge of the Maldivian seabed have made Submaldives one of the best dive operators in the Maldives.
Both Judith and Hassan, who always dive with their clients, take through their liveaboard cruises to the hundreds of dive sites that exist in the Maldives and which fall into 4 types of dives: channel dives with large pelagics (mostly sharks), cleaning point dives with manta birostris, coral reef dives with small life and open water dives with whale sharks... and Submaldives covers all of them "We offer 4 basic routes (5 atolls, 4 atolls, Baa Atoll and Southern Route) and they are all extraordinary because we offer them at the most suitable time of the year to enjoy them to the fullest. We ourselves are constantly researching the Maldivian backdrops and every year we discover new points of interest for different reasons and for every time of the year." In this way, even from one week to the next, the same route can have different dives. "And that always because we look for the best for our clients according to the sea conditions, animal sightings or migrations that we have detected, etc. Moreover, since even on these routes the dives are not always the same, our divers repeat year after year," says Judith.
Today Submaldives has 4 liveaboards in the fleet (Southern Cross, Pricess Lara, Mosaique and Handy Cruise) and another one under construction, all of them with the maximum equipment for diving cruises (support boat, compressors outside the boat, Nitrox, etc.) and each of them adapted to different economies and comfort levels "We are 5 partners of different nationalities and we can serve our clients in their native language and with knowledge of their cultural peculiarities. Each of us has worked and built relationships with dive operators in our country or region of origin". Today they have more than 2,000 clients per year. "We have clients who have been coming for almost 10 years and return every year. There are countless dive sites here!"
In addition to the diving, they also offer diving courses that take place during these cruises, Nitrox courses (especially suitable for diving in the Maldives for its added safety and enjoyment) and even advise their clients on hotels in Male (the capital of the Maldives) if they want to spend a few days in the capital or on transportation between islands. No wonder they have such loyal customers who return to them so often.
Access to manta ray and whale shark sanctuary
One of the most spectacular and unique diving areas not only in the Maldives, but in the whole world, is Hanifaru Bay, a mysterious place where manta rays are attracted by the large amount of plankton that the currents carry through the channels that connect the Baa atoll with the ocean... and Judith can bring it to you "For circumstances that are still unknown despite research, it is a place of pilgrimage of hundreds of giant manta birostris and also whale sharks. The Maldivian authorities have good judgment in restricting access but we have an extraordinary collaborative relationship with Guy Stevens, founder and chief researcher of the Maldivian Manta Ray Project in Hanifaru. I have dived with him on research dives and have learned a lot about the life of manta rays, their behavior, how to approach them, etc. From Submaldives we guarantee the presence of mantas on our bay cruises and we also conduct lectures on the life of mantas. We take our divers on the weeks that according to Guy's statistics the possibilities increase, but always with the utmost respect and following guidelines of behavior under the sea absolutely respectful and minimally intrusive".
There is no doubt that the Maldives is pure life, pure energy and communion with pristine nature. For Judith, what happens in the rest of the world seems to be in a different space from the Maldives, "it's like going back to our origins and finding ourselves," she says.