Our sprawling coastline has begun to attract surfers from across the world. But can it turn into a surfing hotspot? The first India Surf Festival had some clues. Story and images by Garima Jain
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FIVE YEARS ago, Mukesh, a fisherman in Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu, had a life-changing experience. “I saw some foreigners surfing. I went home and carved out a board from an old catamaran. I learnt to balance myself on that until an Israeli surfer gave me his old board when he left India.” Today he runs Mumu Surf Shop, where he teaches 20 fishworkers’ children to surf. At Ramchandi Beach near Puri this month, Mukesh is one of the finalists in the stand-up paddling contest. He looks out for the wave just past the horizon. The sun is rising and the swell is picking up, with his surfboard in hand, he jumps into the Bay of Bengal to catch the perfect wave. He’s come up the coast to Odisha for the first Indian Surf Festival. Forty-one Indian surfers and their 15 counterparts from nine countries are scattered over the beach. They fluctuate between wanting a ‘scene’ like Bondi and Oahu and keeping their sweet spots secret. “Most surfing spots are crowded, so surfers are looking at India as an option,” says Meaghan Scott, an American surfer. “So here we are in Puri.”
The biggest contingent is from Tamil Nadu, though. Surfing schools are mushrooming all along the coast from Mulki (Karnataka) to Auroville (Puducherry) and Butler’s Bay (Andaman Islands). India was accepted into the World Surfing Association recently. A national team is on the cusp of formation.
Kishore Kumar calls himself a Surfin’ Swami. He runs India’s first surf ashram in a village near Mangalore
“Though India has 4,500 miles of coastline and 10-feet waves during the monsoon, fear of the ocean has prevented surfing from catching up,” says Kishore Kumar, who calls himself a Surfin’ Swami. Kishore looks like any other surfer. Back home in Mulki, a village near Mangalore, at India’s first surf ashram, he and his associates wear orange robes, conduct surfing and yoga classes by the beach, operate pro-surfing tours and sell boards online. The ashram is the legacy of a Californian who loved Krishna as much as the wave. The lesson the swamis want to teach? Surfing isn’t just about catching waves. “It’s much deeper than that,” says Kishore. “It is a spiritual experience.”
Garima Jain is a Photo Correspondent with Tehelka.