The first time Tushar Pathiyan (21) rode the swell of a wave lying on his surfboard, he had an epiphany. Nothing, he realised, would ever top what he felt just then. "You always remember your first wave," says the third-year architecture student of Manipal University, Karnataka. "At that time, nothing else mattered. It was just me, my board and the ocean."
A short distance away, his friend Ishita Malaviya (21) let out a short whoop. The waves rose and fell between the two beginners, and their instructors paddled on their surfboards close by, watching them with a hawk eye.
That night, Malaviya got what she calls the 'surfer's dream'. "Everyone who tries it for the first time gets the dream. You feel like you're riding a wave throughout." Pathiyan agrees. He got the dream too. That's when the duo decided to sell off whatever they could lay their hands on to buy themselves a second-hand board.
Malaviya sold the old sewing machine back home in Mumbai and got her mother to wire her the money. Pathiyan sold his gym equipment. "I sold my Ab King Pro," he says, sounding only a little sorry about it. "Surfing is nothing short of an entire body workout -- by the end of it you don't realise just how tired you've got," Pathiyan says. "That's probably because you're too busy having pure fun," says Malaviya.
Armed with a second-hand board, the duo and a few friends started visiting the Ashram Surf Retreat close by ,where the Indian and American devotee residents double as surfboard instructors. Two years later, their small group has grown to a bunch of serious surfers, who slip in an hour or two of surfing before classes every day, and a whole Sunday morning worth of wave riding and paddling on surfboards.
Searching for the Surf
Kirtan Kumar (22) is one of the devotees of the Ashram at Mulki (near Mangalore) who teaches kids how to surf. He and his brother were taught the sport when they were adolescents by the guru instrumental in setting up the ashram, Swami Bhakti Gaurava Narasingha. "When I first saw the foreigners surf, I was blown away," says Kumar. "When you surf, your mind is completely relaxed. It's not going in a million directions." Kumar travelled all along the east coast with his guru in search of good surf. For two years, they stayed at Mahabalipuram, leaving shortly before the tsunami struck. They travelled all the way down to Kanyakumari and then came back up towards the east coast to Mulki, where they started surfing lessons in 2008.
Daruka Dasa, a devotee who used to go by the name Dustin Ellison before he left San Diego four years ago, is another instructor. "When we started, there were more foreign backpackers than Indians who came to learn. But the numbers have grown steadily. Till date, we've taught close to 60 Indians," he says.
Daruka has surfed in many places around the world and says that the Indian coastline is an undiscovered mine for surfers. "Especially in the months leading up to the monsoons and the months that immediately follow it, the sea is spectacular. The water is clear, the waves are comparable to anything I've seen in California." For a beginner though, the months from November to April are good to get their feet wet in the sport. "It's best to stay away during the monsoons, because the waves are choppy and crash faster. So there's not much to surf on," says Pathiyan.
Overcome your fear
But for a beginner, even the manageable waves of the rest of the year can be scary. "When I first started, I was thwacked around a lot," laughs Malaviya. "I came up with many bruises, but that's because I couldn't control my board." With time, he says, "you and the board become one."
Pathiyan admits big waves still scare him. But the trick is to always stay calm. "You can't fight the waves, so it's useless trying to resist the sea."
Now the duo regard their surf time as nothing less than playtime -- and have come up with their own ways of staying safe in the sea. Like never going alone into the sea but only in a group. They've also learnt to respect the sea, the underwater life and the beach. They reap their rewards when after a good four-hour session of riding the waves they stop paddling to watch the dolphins swim into the horizon.