Photographs by Rammohan Paranjape
For decades, India went unnoticed as a surf destination. In Asia, the surfing world never looked beyond Indonesia in the ’70s, and Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the 90s. But around the year 2000, surfing began to make its presence felt across across India’s vast coastline. With the advent of technology, tourist influx, infrastructure and a new generation keen for adventure, the last decade has seen many young Indians take to the sport.
The pioneers were also the first ones to explore the Indian coastline for spots that offered the best waves. And they discovered quite a few, along both the west and east coast, as well as the islands. They are all considered to be good enough for both for beginners and intermediates, and occasionally throw up swells which would challenge even the pros. The quality of some of the Indian surfing destinations has been lauded by many top international surfing pros, international surf magazines and film makers, who have showcased them as truly world-class, with the added bonus of being virtually empty through the year. The author, who is the country’s pioneering photographer of the sport, besides being an accomplished surfer and the vice-president of the Surfing Federation of India, lists India’s best surfing spots from his personal experience.
Andaman Islands, Lakshadweep Islands
The outer islands of Andamans in the Bay of Bengal, and Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea, are blessed with some of the world’s best reef breaks. These breaks have been immortalized in legendary surf movies like Thicker than Water, Castles in the Sky and Slow Dance, which showcased India as one of the last few surfing frontiers on the planet. The water here is clear blue, with pumping barrels and lots of scope for power surfing and barrel riding. Just make sure you have plenty of zinc oxide, rash guards and an extra surfboard when you visit these islands. Getting there and securing decent accommodation and transport is still a challenge, but if one is determined nothing is impossible.
Best time to visit: Andamans, February to May; Lakshadweep, June to September
Covelong Point, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
About 40 km south of Chennai and just 20 minutes from Mahabalipuram is another epic right hand point break called Covelong Point, which has produced some of India’s best surfers over the years. The village is popularly known as India’s first surfing village where most of the younger generation have taken to surfing as an alternative to fishing. The Covelong Point Surf & Music festival has grown to be a very successful surfing event in the country, attracting talented surfers from across the country and abroad. The Asian Surfing Championship was held here recently, which proved the potential of the surf break.
Best time to visit: June to September
Gokarna is famous for its beautiful, clean beaches, landscapes and temples. The long and wide beaches here offer plenty of good surf for beginners, intermediates as well as pro surfers. There are plenty of budget accommodations and facilities for travelling surfers to camp and explore this laidback coastal town.
Best time to visit: From October to May for beginners. Intermediate and advanced surfers will find pre-monsoon and monsoon swells exciting and challenging, from June to September.
One of the most tourist-friendly beaches after Goa, Kovalam draws a sizeable number of visitors from around the world during the season, including surfers. It is also one of the few beaches where you can rent a surfboard and a body board easily. Since Kovalam is tucked close to the tip of southern India, it gets some big swells, pumping mushy slabs and occasional perfect barrels. Locals know of a few more great surfing spots around Kovalam, but they are not for the faint-hearted.
Best time to visit: Kovalam gets good surf from March to May, and from October to November.
Mulki, Mangalore, Karnataka
Considered the home of surfing in India, where the surfing culture began a decade ago when India’s first surf club and retreat was started by “Surfing Swamis”. Located on the west coast of Karnataka, 30 km north of Mangalore, it is the ideal place for beginners to come and learn surfing with the pioneers of surfing in India. If you are an intermediate or an advanced surfer looking for challenging waves, then you will have to be there around the premonsoon and monsoon season when only a few daredevils charge the swell. Recently, the biggest surfing event in the country, Indian Open of Surfing, took place here.
Best time to visit: Mulki works well in pre-monsoon and post monsoon season with big surf. The conditions are ideal for learners throughout the year, except during peak monsoon season.
Mahabalipuram, Shore Temple Break, Tamil Nadu
Mahabalipuram, also known as Mahabs is an ancient port city known for its majestic temples and UNESCO heritage monuments, which draw a considerable number of tourists. These days, Mahabs is also known for its right-hand point break against the iconic shore temple, offering spectacular waves for tube riding and power surfing. This small fishing town can easily be called one of the best surfing spots in mainland India, with big swells during the Bay of Bengal cyclones that tend to peak in the May-November period.
Best time to visit: June to September
A melting pot of east and west, with its still preserved French quarter, tree-lined streets and colonial buildings, Pondicherry is also a premier surf destination for tourists and expats living there. Surf spots around here hold three to six foot swells, and there is a nice right hand wave off the local jetty. Like most of the East Coast spots, it gets offshore wind in the morning, which is the best time for surfing.
Best time to visit: August to December
Vizag, Andhra Pradesh
The only city in the country to carry the name tag of `Surf city’. Plenty of scenic bays and empty line-ups right in the heart of the city produce a variety of waves. Lawson Bay & Rushikonda beach are the preferred spot for the small community of thriving surfers attached to the local surf club here. Although, Vizag is a major city and a thriving commercial centre, surfing is yet to catch on big time . During the IPL season, a few South African and Australian cricketers go surfing to escape from the blistering humidity. Vizag does face the wrath of occasional cyclones and storms from Bay of Bengal which brings plenty of good sizeable surf to the shores.
Best time to visit: May to August