Though we boast of a 7500km coastline, and a long tradition of seafaring, Indians are surprisingly poor at water related sports, specially the ocean variety. The Bombay Yacht Club, for example, is nearly 170 years old, yet yachting is still in its infancy in the country. Surfing, the other big ocean sport, was virtually unheard of till about a decade ago. But that seems to be changing, with some stirring of activity in recent years. The country is starting to see the emergence of a few surfing festivals, training schools and even surfboard manufacturing start-ups. We caught up with some of the front-runners of this growing scene.
Murthy Megavan – The Fisherman-Turned-Festival Organiser
(Kovalam, Tamil Nadu)
Murthy Megavan, a fisherman from Covelong Point, Kovalam, Tamil Nadu, started surfing using just a wooden door for a surfboard, until he met Jack Hebner, a.k.a Surfing Swami, a veteran who has been surfing on Indian shores for more than 40 years. It was Hebner’s surfboard that Megavan had used for his first ‘real’ surf in 2002.Says Megavan, ‘Those 20 minutes on the board changed my life.”
In 2012, with the help of his surfer friend Yotam Agam of the record label EarthSync, Megavan set up The Covelong Point Surfing School, offering free admission and coaching to children who wished to learn the sport. His only condition to interested kids was that they should keep away from alcohol and drugs, a common problem in his fishing community. In 2013, he started a surfing contest-cum-festival called the Covelong Point Classic Surf Contest, with financial assistance from Arun Vasu, the the director of a Chennai-based cargo company. The two-year old event, which also features art and yoga, has so far witnessed performances by festival favourites like Raghu Dixit,The F16s and Skrat, among others.
Anil Ningappa: The Seven-Year-Old Surfing Wonder
In 2014, seven-year-old Anil Ningappa and his laborer parents moved to the beach town of Mulki, Karnataka to look for better livelihood. Every day, the boy would spend hours sitting on the beach, watching kids from the Mantra Surf Club surf and swim in the ocean. “He watched us for two weeks,” recalls instructor Shamanth Kumar, who is now Ningappa’s surfing coach. One day Kumar asked him if he wanted to surf too. Ningappa happily said yes. On day one of his surfing lesson, Ningappa fell off his board, but that didn’t stop him from waking Kumar up early next morning for his second session. Much to Kumar’s surprise, the boy learned to surf even before he could swim. On the second day, he managed to ride his first wave. A young surfing star, Ningappa now wants to ride waves that are six-foot high. Kumar says, “He will become a legend one day; I’ll make sure he does.”
Vellu Murugan: Dr Fix-It Of The Surfing Scene
Thirty-four-year-old Vellu Murugan, a fisherman from Auroville, Tamil Nadu, was a surfing spectator for a long time before he told himself that he would try and surf too. Fueled by his passion to pursue the sport, Murugun worked shifts at local guest houses to make enough money to buy his first surfboard.
In the year 2000, as luck would have it, he found a broken board lying next to a toilet in one of the guest houses. He managed to bring the board back to shape using the common tools available to a fisherman. To prevent the board from slipping, he improvised a bit and used a coconut rope as a leash. Within a few years of realizing his surfing dream, Vellu put his surfboard-making skills to good use, working with Mahabalipuram-based surfboard manufacturers, Temple Surfboards. He is now known as Dr Fix-It of the Indian surf scene, and has started a school – Aloha Surf School – in Goa.
When the ocean isn’t playing fair, Murugan loves to skate instead. He lives all by himself because he feels that solitude allows him to indulge in his passion for sports. Murugan says, “My family wouldn’t be able to understand the love I have for surfing and travelling. I want to continue doing this all my life.”
Spandan Banerjee–The Surfboard Start-Up Man
What started out as a simple week-long trip to discover surfing spots along the Indian coastline soon turned into a bigger project for Spandan Banerjee, a mechanical engineer-turned pilot and surfing enthusiast. In 2012, he co-founded the India Surf Festival, which is held annually on Odisha’s Ramchandi Beach. The next year, he launched his solo startup called Tattva Boards, which custom-makes long boards.
In its past four editions, ISF drew in a large number of competitive surfers, and also hosted many local and international music acts such as the Argentinian techno DJ, 120dub, France’s world music ourfit Alchimix and Mumbai’s reggae/psychedelia act Tribal Flora, among others. However, Banerjee is no longer part of ISF; he says the festival has become more of a beach party and competition now than being a collective of like-minded surfing enthusiasts. Currently, Banerjee teaches surfing and skating besides working on his solo venture.
Ishita Malaviya & Tushar Pathiyan: Surfing For A Cause
(Kodi Bengre, Karnataka)
Ishita Malaviya (26) and Tushar Pathiyan (27), students of Manipal University co-founded the Shaka Surf Club as a recreational hub for the locals of the small rural village town of Kodi Bengre in Karnataka in 2007.
“We shared our second-hand board for two years, sneaking it into local buses since the conductor would argue it was too big to carry. We taught ourselves to surf, taking turns in the water. Our parents never supported us financially – they were very apprehensive about our choice — though they grew to accept it eventually,” recalls Malaviya, who is one of the few women professional surfers in India. “I always used to be the only girl in the water,” she says. Not anymore. Last year, the surfing duo of Sinchana(13) and Aneesha (14), both competitive swimmers trained by Mantra Surf Club secured the second and third positions at the Open Women’s meet, defeating the likes of Malaviya and even a few international surfers.
But what really did it for Malaviya was when after watching her biographic documentary Beyond The Tide at a public screening, a 68-year old woman the village asked her if she could teach her to surf too. Currently, Shaka Surf Club is collaborating with international surfer Farhana Huq, founder of the Brown Girl Surf Campaign, on a project to make surfing a more accessible sport for women.
Surfing Swami: From Jacksonville To Mulki
Jack Hebner a.k.a. Surfing Swami, has been riding waves around the world for over four decades now. As part of Sixties’ group Surf Addicts and the larger hippie movement, Hebner hopped around different surf spots in the world hunting for the perfect waves. A writer and a professional photographer in his day, Hebner came to India in 1976 and set up an ashram in Mulki, which is now also home to Mantra Surfing School started by him. Swami, who is also a celibate Krishna devotee and an occasional harmonium player, describes the growing surf scene in India like reliving the good old 1960s.Pointing to Bali as a surfer’s paradise, the Swami hopes that the surf scene in India grows with the right spirit and doesn’t get sucked into the corporate wormhole much like most sports today.
Arif Futehally: The Self-Taught, Casual Surfer
Futehally caught the surfing bug, thanks to his childhood home, which was opposite the Juhu beach, in Mumbai. He started windsurfing when he was 13, and organically switched to surfing later on. A self-taught surfer, his experiences in Europe helped him in strengthening his skills on the board. When asked why he finds surfing so addictive, he says, “It’s indescribable, just being in the ocean, understanding the waves and hanging out with people who are as addicted. And, obviously, the travelling.” A full-time businessman with interests in industrial manufacturing, he goes on vacations only to surf. With four trips every year, his favourite surfing spots are in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. On his surfing role models, he says, “When you watch some videos of the pros, you realise the things they would have gone through to be able to surf like that.”