Andaman Sessions 2007
True to our tradition Mantra Surf Club made its annual surf adventure to the Andaman Islands during March/April 2007. The Andaman Islands are among the most pristine islands in the world today and are home to several aboriginal tribes and some good surf.
True to our tradition Mantra Surf Club made its annual surf adventure to the Andaman Islands during March/April 2007. Several of the members went in the advance party [Govardhan, Priya, Kunja, Rupa and Babaji] and the rest of us [Yogi Jagadish, Gopal, Kirtan, Satya, Dustin and Swami] followed a few days later.
Eleven surfers turned out to be a good number of people for this type of surf adventure — not too many but just enough for a community spirit and to share the waves. On arrival in Port Blair [the capitol of the Andaman Islands] we had hotel accommodations for the first couple of days while we arranged permits and supplies but didn’t see that sort of luxury again until we sailed back into the harbor one month later.
Although the Andaman Islands offer some great waves the island authorities [government officials] do not go out of their way to encourage surfers. In fact they are a bit of a hassle and it was hard to figure out what the rules were or where we could go looking for surf and where we couldn’t because everyone we talked to said something different. The same is true in mainland India, nobody seems to know exactly what is going on and everyone has a different opinion. But in the Andamans it was even more intense.
Most of the 302 Andaman Islands are protected forest reserves and some are restricted areas that are designated only for the indigenous primitive people [the Onge, Jarawa, and Sentinelis].
The islands look like they fell from the storybooks of Robinson Caruso, Treasure Island and Cast Away. We saw old growth trees that touched the sky, dense green jungles, a few really creepy creatures, primitive people and lots of King Coconuts, free for the taking if you can climb a straight up 50-foot tree. The islands were a paradise.
However, in some places we saw the remains at “ground zero” that got the full impact of the 2004 December tsunami. The tsunami took the lives of several thousand people in the Andamans and left its mark on the survivors forever. Even after almost three years since the tusnami it was an eerie feeling to see the remains of the devastation and death — giant trees fallen at the shoreline and the devastated housing where people had died without warning. Indeed, the thought that at any moment the ocean could strike again is not far from the mind of anyone who survived that terrible day.
The primitive tribes of the Andaman Islands are the real deal. Some are so primitive that they are said to still practice cannibalism. For many centuries the Andaman Islands have been know among seafarers as the “Islands of the Headhunters.” So it is understandable why the Indian government doesn’t want visitors go to certain islands and disturb these people.
Of the primitive tribes the Sentinelis are probably the most hostile. So much so that to this day they have rejected all contact with the outside world and as late as in January 2007 they killed two drunken fishermen whose boat washed ashore on their island. Some people say there are good surf spots on the island where the Sentinelis live but it is doubtful that anyone ever really surfed those breaks and lived to tell about it. Wiping out there is a good way to find yourself on tomorrows menu. No joke!
After finding out where we could actually go looking for surf and getting the necessary permits it was equally difficult finding out how to get there because none of the maps issued by the Indian government are accurate.
Anyway, after pushing past all the obstacles we eventually got to the waves. Then along came these guys [government officials] and told us that we actually couldn’t be there and that we had to leave that area immediately. At that point we contemplated strangling someone! But moving on luck was with us and we finally got what we came for — good waves and no government officials in sight!
Everyone wants to know what spots we surfed and how to get to those spots but sorry friends — that information we will have to keep a secret! Wow, sounds selfish doesn’t it! Well it is kind of selfish but the reason is simple. Andaman Islands offer some world-class surf and no crowds or that’s the way it used to be until too many guys started finding out about the surf in the Andamans. Over the past few years some of the easy to get to spots have gotten really crowded and even some of the natives have been getting “civilized” hanging out, wearing shorts and drinking sodas. So to keep the crowds from getting any worse and to keep the natives from being contaminated by modern “civilization” — mums the word mate!
The Andaman Islands are all about lava rock and coral reefs. Virtually no one gets away with out paying the “reef tax” — everyone gets at least a couple of scratches or worse. We took our share of hits but fortunately we had taken a first aid kit and some anti-biotics with us. With the nearest doctor being back in Port Blair [a day or two away by boat] we didn’t want to take any chances. If someone was to get seriously injured while in a remote area they could easily die out there without proper care. But we went prepared and were glad we did.
There was day after day of wave perfection then suddenly the waves fell flat and it was time to do some snorkeling. We found some really great snorkeling places with beautiful coral formations and lots of other strange and wonderful aquatic life. We would be down about 20 feet and suddenly someone would grab you and your heart would skip a beat thinking that you were about to be eaten by a shark but it was usually only Kunja trying to get your attention to show you some incredibly colorful fish. Snorkeling was so great that we even started taking masks into the lineup and diving in between sets. Finding underwater caves to explore and cliffs from which to jump into the ocean from 30 or 40 feet above were also highlights on some days.
Because everyone on our trip was vegetarian we didn’t snorkel with a spear gun or sling and it seemed that the fish could sense that we were no danger to them in their underwater paradise. Although we were only equipped with amateur underwater cameras, still we did get a few good pictures.
Sometimes camping in the jungles was almost as much fun as surfing [but not quite]. The jungle comes alive at night with lots of creepy crawling creatures! Most are harmless like the thousands of Hermit Crabs that crawl around in the leaves and sounded like a band of natives sneaking through the campsite trying to steel our surfboards. No kidding — the first night in the jungle everyone woke up at least every half an hour thinking that we were under attack! Quickly flashing a light out of the tent or from the hammock — alas there was nothing out there to harm us or steal our boards — only hungry Hermit Crabs rustling in the leaves.
Everything was going great — we couldn’t have asked for more and then we encountered the dreaded “Curse of the Andamans”! That dreaded curse is enough to drive some people crazy within one or two days but somehow we survived by taking shelter in the water when it got very heavy. What is the “Curse of the Andamans”? Now that I think of it when I am back at the ashram in Mulky it makes me itch all over. Well, in a word the dreaded “Curse of the Andamans” are the Sand Fleas! That’s right, sand fleas. Those little buggers have got to be the curse of God on those otherwise perfect islands! They are too small to see, bite like starving cannibals, the bites itch like Hell for weeks and the bites are easily infected, causing fever and body pain. Hanging out on the sandy beaches was a sheer disaster until we finally figured out what was happening. We will spare our readers any further embarrassing details about the downside of the “Curse of the Andamans” but a word of caution to one and all — don’t linger in the jungle when answering the call of nature least the dreaded curse be upon you!
The best way to avoid the “Curse of the Andamans” is to travel and stay on the boat. Boat tours are the only really sane and efficient way to surf the Andamans anyway, getting lots of waves and avoiding the crowds.
All the above said and done we hope you will enjoy some of the images we captured on our trip – [Click here for Andaman surf photo galleries]