Till some time back, surfing was considered an entertainment sport in India.
Till some time back, surfing (gliding on top of waves in the middle of the sea) was considered an entertainment sport in India. Things and perceptions, however, changed with the coming of professional surfers such as 27-year-old Ishita Malaviya and 28-year-old Tushar Pathiyan.
It was the year 2007 when Udupi-based Malaviya and her friend Pathiyan met a German exchange student and surfer who had come to Karnataka. “It was through him that we discovered an ashram, where the devotees were actually surfers from California. They were surfing at a spot that was only an hour away from us. A small chat and we found ourselves amid the waves,” says Malaviya, the country’s first female professional surfer.
Later the same year, they co-founded The Shaka Surf Club, one of the country’s first surf schools, in Udupi and took up surfing full-time. Talking about why she took up the sport, Malaviya says, “I was always an outdoors person and wanted to be in and around nature as much as possible. Surfing enables me to do that. It has changed my life. I just want to surf now and train others who feel the same way.”
Initially, though, it wasn’t that easy. They had to sell a lot of their assets to buy equipment. Their parents, too, objected. “My parents objected to me taking up surfing as a career and refused to fund me. But now, when they see me, they feel happy,” says Malaviya. Interestingly, Malaviya taught her mother to ride her first wave a few years ago.
Efforts of such enthusiasts and surfing clubs have seen the sport touch new heights in the country. Varkala-based Soul & Surf, a yoga and surfing retreat, for instance, has seen many volunteers eventually taking up surfing full-time. Nineteen-year-old Praveen Thampi is one of them. Five years ago, when Thampi first came to Varkala in Kerala to surf, he had not imagined himself as a professional surfer, teaching the sport to others. But today, he has persuaded his two cousins to join him as well. “There is nothing better than doing what you love for a living. It has been a great experience so far,” says Thampi.
Like other sports, surfing, too, faces its set of challenges. As it’s an aquatic sport, it can only take place in coastal areas. Plus, the gear is very expensive. “Currently, we have three types of surfers in India: vacation surfers (those who surf for a few days), enthusiasts (who return whenever they can) and serious surfers (who pursue it professionally),” says Rammohan Paranjape, vice-president, Surfing Federation of India, the apex body for the sport in India. “The sport has a lot of potential for a country like India. We have a huge coastline and must make use of the natural conditions. Professionals should help out enthusiasts, so that they see the scope in the sport and think of taking it up,” he says.