India has 7,500km of coastline, but the last thing you are likely to see on its palm-fringed beaches is a surfboard — until now. That is changing, thanks to a group of surfers from near the port city of Mangalore known as — what else? — the Surfing Swamis.
Born under the technical and spiritual guidance of a former US surfer turned swami named Jack Hebner, the group last year set up the Surfing Federation of India (SFI) and has just organized the first Indian Surfing Festival in Orissa State on the other side of the peninsula.
“Three fishermen take on the world and win,” exulted CNN-IBN TV, as surfers from the southern Tamil Nadu State came first, second and third in the stand-up paddle event — the only race at the festival — against competitors from nine other countries, including the US, Australia, South Africa and Vietnam.
“Riding the padagu [catamaran] for a living makes us endure long stretches of stress,” said Murthy Megavan, one of the fishermen/surfers.
He and his teammates were trained at the Bay of Life surfing school, where they learned stand-up paddle surfing in two months.
“They have it in their blood,” said Showkath Jamal, who set up the school in Tamil Nadu after watching foreigners surf at a beach near Chennai.
“Indians respect, fear and worship the ocean, but as we propagate the idea of surfing as a sport — and also teach people how to understand currents, zips, etc — people are getting interested,” he said.
“Even now before we surf we say a prayer to Varuna, the god of the sea,” said Kishore Kumar, surfer and founder of the SFI. “Ultimately, it’s at the ocean’s mercy that you catch a good wave.”