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Surfing the Indian waves: How the Sports is gaining popularity in India

The sport of surfing is carving its niche in India.

Surfing in India is taking off
Surfing in India is really taking off

When we think of surfing, India most likely does not come to our mind, but now things are about to change.

The All India Open of Surfing which was recently held last week on the beautiful Sasihithlu beach near Mangalore was one of the biggest surfing events held in India so far, with the best of Indian and International surfers participating in the tournament.

The tournament was well organised by Mantra Surf Club in association with the Kanara Surfing & Water Sports Promotion Council and the participants didn’t only compete for the honour but there was also 6,00,000 Indian rupees to be won. Besides surfing, bodyboarding competitions and stand- up paddle races were also a part of the tournament. Live music, dances and a food festival kept the participants and the many thousands of visitors entertained. Bollywood superstar Sunil Shetty and cricketers Paddy Upton and Sanju Samson as well as many high-ranking government officials also made it to the beach!

Young Indians taking to Surfing

16-year-old female surfer, Tanvi Jagadish, one of the 120 competitors, is one of the rising number of female surfers that are hitting the waves. When asked about how surfing has affected her, she says: “Surfing has changed my life and empowered me with a strong voice to speak to the society. People in India think surfing is just for boys and I faced a similar problem when my mother would tell me that I would not get married as I would be too tanned and falling on the board would bruise my face. But my message is that anybody can surf, there is no age limit and it keeps you really fit”.

During the days she surfed really well and surely made her mother proud when she made it to the final 4 of the women’s class.

The founder of Mantra Surf Club is Jack Hebner (70) from USA, popularly known as ‘Surfing Swami’ who is one of the first practitioners and the biggest booster of surfing in India. He came to India in the 1970’s and in 1976 got the status of Swami. Standing on the beach overlooking the event, Jack tells us his story: “As I stayed in India over the years, learning yoga and Sanskrit, I saw this nondescript coastal town with its empty shores and big waves as a great opportunity for surfing”.

He pauses while his eyes catch the ride of one of his students and continues “You see that around the world most of the surfing beaches of California, Hawaii and Australia are overcrowded – the surf sport is already popular. So 12 years ago, I set up the first Indian surfing school right here in our ashram in Mulki, [a town near the port city of Mangalore]. In the beginning, it was mostly foreigners who came, but now there is a complete change in perspective as the Indians themselves are wanting to do it. Earlier people would come and watch me surf but seldom showed interest. What was missing was an Indian surfer, and when that happened it changed everything, like throwing a match on dry grass, Woosh!”

The rise of Surfing in India

One of the Indians who has taken up surfing and that seriously is Shamanth Kumar, age 22, from Mantra Surf Club. He is one of surfing swami’s students and became a surfer back in 2002. He tells us how he was on a road trip with Jack and got to see the ocean for the first time. Initially, he was really scared, it almost took him 3 days to come back to the ocean. He overcame his fears and started to surf when Mantra Surf Club was established in 2004 and was blown away when he caught his first perfect wave. During the event, he was one of the judges and now has a lot of aspirations and goals of developing the sport and spreading the joy of surfing.

”We should respect the ocean and know what its powers are and then we can play, like the children of the sea,” Jack said. He also believes in keeping the ocean and the beaches clean. Karnataka Tourism’s endeavour towards a major cleanup of the beach area with the motto, ‘Helping Hand for Surf and Sand’ attracted over 300 volunteers in a bid to make the event spectator friendly. It worked, the clean white beach and the great organisation really set a new standard for how surf competitions can be run in India.

“Now the surf world has found India, today there are already 12 surfing schools on the Indian shores and India is already picking up as an upcoming destination for learning surfing” Jack says and with a smile continues “Now we are waiting for India to wake up and discover its own potential as a surfing destination. Surfing can be a multimillion-dollar industry for India. International surfing pros such as Craig Anderson, Mitch Coleburn, Chippa Wilson, Pat Curren and Dave Rastovich have come to surf in India in the past eight years.”

An eye-catching event

This event caught the eye of several respectable corporations and the state government. The sports department and tourist department are going to be investing 2 crores to develop this into a surf park, leasing it to the Mantra Surf club that will take the steps required to turn it into a controlled surf park with lifeguards, proper picnic tables, bathrooms, beach volleyball courts, and equipment to rent.

If you feel ready to compete or perhaps just want to watch some great surfing, come to Chennai in the end of August when the next big Indian international surf tournament is going to be held. And this is just the beginning. 

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