Contrary to the times when cricket was the only sport that enthused the country, from beginners to pros, India is now witnessing an ever-growing fan base for surfing.
As he lay flat on his surf board, unwinding under a warm sunny sky, a big fast wave rises up angrily before him threatening to throw him into the waters. He jumps up quickly balancing himself with his hands. Wind blows through his hair. Barely able to see through the salty water that splashes into his eyes, he feels the adrenaline rising through his veins and shivering his entire body in the wake of the thrill that he’s about to experience. He rides the white wave on a large yellow surf board and skits through its curvature back and forth. No, it’s not Gold Coast or Hawaii. It’s the coastal town of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh in south-eastern India.
“Earlier, I was a sailor. Since childhood, I sailed big yachts and competed with others. But I wanted to learn something new and when I saw a tourist coming out of the ocean with a surf board, I knew it had to be this,” recalls Anudeep Andy, founder at Lonely Surfers in Visakhapatnam. His love for the sport was evident in his voice and the very mention of surfing enthused him as we sit and chat in a beach shack. “Back then, when I started surfing, it was a very new sport for India and didn’t have a big fan following like cricket. So, we wanted people to know about it. We hung out at the beach surfing and including more people in our gang. And here we are, 10 years later, organising surf contests around the country,” he adds.
India’s 7,500 kilometre of coastline houses a number of surfing spots where adrenaline junkies and backpackers from all across the country come to catch the waves. “What I love the most about surfing is the connection it builds between man and water. You can feel something getting into you from the waves and which calms you down from the inside. The water’s softness inspires us to stay wet and kind at heart,” says Melville Anthony, a surf enthusiast in A Rising Tide: The Indian Surf Story, a short film.
India owes the discovery of its surf spots to Jack Hebner. Popularly known as the ‘Surfing Swami’, he is the pioneer of surfing in India. In 1970s, he came to India to seek a spiritual refuge when he discovered some amazing surf spots in the unexplored blue expanses of the Indian waters. He was also the founder of the first surf club in India – Mantra Surf Club, known as the ‘Surf Ashram’.
Most of the surf clubs in the country have certified instructors and provide accommodation and required equipment to learners. “We have around 20 to 25 locals in our Surf Team. Apart from that, tourists from big cities like Delhi come here to take lessons. We give free lessons and surfboards to children of local fishermen,” exclaims Anudeep.
With the passage of time, the sport is gaining popularity among youngsters. “In our team, we have fishermen folks who want to pursue it as a profession just like me. Until now, it was just a hobby but now with Tokyo 2020, first Olympic Games to feature surfing as one of the sports, we’ll have more trainees who’ll want to compete from the Indian team,” remarks Anudeep proudly.
Going against the tide to be the first woman surfer of the country, Ishita Malaviya embraced the sport in 2007 when she moved from Mumbai to a small coastal town in Karnataka to pursue higher studies. “When I found out that I could possibly be the first female surfer in India, I was shocked. I felt special in a way. Like the universe had chosen this path for me,” she states in India’s first all-female surfing documentary, Beyond the Surface. “When I started surfing, I found everything I was looking for in life and more,” adds Ishita, founder of the Shaka Surf Club, located at Mangalore on the western coast, about 1,000 kilometre south of Mumbai.
The Surfing Federation of India (SFI), founded by a group of surfers in 2011, is recognised as the National Governing Body for surfing in India. It also organises various surfing contests and festivals. During the Indian Surf Festival in 2016, a 3-day event, workshops were held for newbies as well as advanced level learners. Along with chic music and lip-smacking food, pros from all around the country and abroad gathered and competed in Surfing, Stand-up Paddling and Skateboarding along the sandy shores of the pristine beaches of Odisha.
Moreover, a number of clean-up drives are organised from time to time by different surf clubs with the objective of spreading awareness about the coastal habitat and cleanliness in India. “Every Sunday morning, before diving into the ocean, we make sure that we clean the beach which takes around three to four hours. For us, surfing is not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle,” affirms Andy.