Rammohan Paranjape spends so much time in the ocean that he calls himself `waterman’. He is also given to being philosophical about his relationship with the sea. “The ocean, it drowns you within yourself,” he says. The 27-year-old Ram is India’s only professional surfing photographer, and along with a handful of others has been a keen player in developing India’s emerging reputation as a surfing destination.
A Bengaluru boy, Ram fell in love with surfing and photography after he dropped out of his pre-University course at St Joseph, and followed two of his friends to Mulki, a small beach village north of Mangalore, where they had begun surfing at the newly set up Mantra Surf Club. It was founded in 2004 by two pioneering American surfers (and Krishna devotees) Jack Hebner and Rick Perry, along with a spiritual retreat that they named Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram. As Ram discovered, it was a one-of-a-kind place, where tourists and locals could enjoy and train under some of the finest surfers, while finding peace within the serene premises of the ashram. Collectively, the ashram and the surf club came to be known as the ‘Surfing Ashram’, and Hebner was lovingly referred to as the Surfing Swami.
“My decision to join Surfing Swami at his ashram and lead a holistic life was because I found him and his life inspiring,” Ram says.“The outside world of corporate slavery, building a shallow career and just trying to survive in the urban madness didn’t appeal to me at all. Ashram life was a lot more about communal living, great harmony and appreciating many small things in life. It was dynamic, and I learnt a lot about many things which I probably wouldn’t have learnt in the outside world.”
Along with valuable lessons in surfing, Ram also picked up the ropes of surf photography, while assisting the Surfing Swami on his surf trips, beginning in 2007 with the Andamans. He began by contributing photographs to the ashram’s website, surfingindia.net, and his first break came in 2011, when he accompanied the legendary Aussie surfer Craig Anderson on a trip to Lakshadweep. With assignments for the likes of Red Bull, Surfer magazine, National Geographic and Quiksilver, Ram is now the go-to photographer when it comes to surfing in the subcontinent.
“Beyond the passion for both surfing and photography, you need the best equipment, and maintenance is key,” Rammohan says about surfing photography. He has built his gear over the years, starting with a Canon 20D with a telephoto lens to a more powerful Sony A6000 today. He advises beginners to start with a basic starter-pack for surf photography, comprising a strap, flippers, a compact water housing with one working lens (preferably a mid-range one) and a camera. He also recommends the use of a GoPro camera before moving into heavier SLRs. His own current preferences are the more compact mirrorless cameras, because of their easy maneuverability. Maintenance of the water housing, he says, is key, as even a slight leak could spell disaster.
He has since also diversified into extreme sports, travel and even cricket (he is currently on assignment for the T20 World Cup), but surfing remains his big passion. When not riding waves and squeezing off those perfect barrel shots, Ram organizes surf tours and is also currently working on a project to launch India’s first affordable surf clothing and accessories line, called `Thunder Monkeys’. “We have seen tremendous growth in surfing in the last decade in India. For the most part, surfing isn’t just a sport – there’s a huge lifestyle aspect behind it, like clothing, accessories, surf gear and so on. This is where we saw an opportunity and thought of launching our own brand which is made for India, keeping the Indian market in mind.”