Surfing in the Deep South of India
Just imagine – you are lying on your bed with your head in your pillow dreaming of glassy waves, well formed barrels, long lines, slightly off shore winds and nobody out but you and your friends. Then you wake up and find out – Hey! You’re not dreaming – you’re in South India and the surf is great!
Just imagine – you are lying on your bed with your head in your pillow dreaming of glassy waves, well formed barrels, long lines, slightly off shore winds and nobody out but you and your friends. Then you wake up and find out – Hey! You’re not dreaming – you’re in South India and the surf is great! More than 5,000 miles of virgin Indian coastline and lots of great waves with nobody in the water – that’s surfing in India. You just have to be here at the right time to get the waves.
Our last surf trip [July 2006] to the southern most part of the sub-continent was the right time and we got some really great waves. Nobody out because nobody surfs in India except a handful of guys and one girl. Not only does nobody surf in India – people don’t even swim in the ocean. Can you imagine – thousands of miles of beach all to yourself? Nobody swims in India because of the danger of sharks, right? Wrong! There are no sharks along the coast of India. At least I haven’t seen one and I’ve been surfing here for the past 30 years. People don’t swim in India because they simply don’t know how.
In fact being alone for so many years finally got to me and so I decided to teach a few local kids how to surf just so I would have someone to talk to and share the fun with. Meet the kids: Kunja, Kirtan and Satya.
Baba [Rick Perry a 20 year surf-vet from Hawaii], who has been surfing here in India for the past 5 years, was also on this last trip.
In two weeks we hit many good spots along the coast between Chennai [Madras] and Kanya Kumari [Cape Comorin] but by far we got the best waves in Mahabalipuram [Bay of Bengal] and Manapad [Gulf of Mannar]. Actually that’s a lie and I shouldn’t tell lies. The truth is that we found several previously unknown spots on this trip never surfed before and with some really great waves [right and left point breaks over shallow rock shelf].
We decided to keep these spots a secret just in case India ever gets inundated by vacation surfers. If that ever becomes a reality then we will at least have preserved a secret spot or two for ourselves. Remember what Confucius said, “Keep smiling and keep the best surf spots secret for just you and your friends.” Was that Confucius or was that Buddha? Anyway, you know what its all about.
Satya [13 yrs old and 4 ft 5 inches tall] was fearless wherever we surfed. Even the smallest waves were head high or overhead for this little guy but he never haired out, even when he should have!
Kunja and Kirtan [Satya’s brothers, 19 and 18 yrs old] got great waves wherever we went out and by the looks of it only time separates them from becoming national surf icons here in India.
Two young men [Velu and Shankar] from Pondicherry joined us for a day at Mahabalipuram and these guys also got some good waves. In fact, Velu kept taking off so close to the rocks that we thought we were going to have to come out at low tide and pull him out from the crevasses. But remarkably he made every wave [well almost every wave] getting lots of fantastic rides!
Shankar [a goofy-foot] also got some really terrific rides that day. Prakash and Shankar are probably the two best surfers in India but ‘surfers beware’ because the little guys are coming up fast and they have that competitive look in their eyes!
A remarkable feature of the beach at the southern side of the Shore Temple is that you can dig down about 5 feet in the sand and get pure drinking water when the ocean is just 60 feet away. That’s got to be unique.
At Mahabalipuram we rented an air-conditioned/thatched roof cottage on the beach for less than $40 per night and everyone pilled in. This was great surfing and comfortable living at its best. In and around the town there are many massive stone carvings from antiquity to wonder at. You get the feeling in Mahabalipuram that you have come to surf in some kind of never-never-land. Did Peter Pan ever surf? If so he would have loved this place.
At Manapad Point and all points south it was just the five of us and although the wind conditions those days could have been better we still had all the waves we wanted. But when is enough surf really enough? Never!
Manapad and other spots that we surfed were all point breaks that emptied into fishing harbors with quaint villages on the beach. Fishing from small boats with hand held lines is a way of life for many coastal people in India, a way of life that they have been following since hoary antiquity. Each village has lots of friendly locals, especially the kids who are more than stoked to watch the surfing but who are mortified at the thought of swimming far out into the ocean. Oh well, someone had to do it and it happened to be us!
While surfing Manapad and the other nearby breaks we stayed nights in the little temple town of Tiruchindur. This was the best place to base our party because between Tiruchendur and Kanya Kumari there are no hotels.
However, there are fishermen’s huts that you can rent – provided you don’t mind sleeping with the smell of rotting fish. We didn’t like that idea so we opted for a nice inexpensive hotel in Tiruchendur with an attached vegetarian restaurant. A good meal and a clean place to sleep is all that any surfer could ask for!
Driving for a couple of hours we then crossed the Indira Gandhi Bridge with Palk Bay on our left and the Gulf of Mannar on our right. The long bridge took us to the island of Rameswaram. From there we proceeded across a finger like peninsula of sand to a place called Dhanushkodi. From Dhanushkodi on a clear day you can almost see the island of Sri Lanka – it is a distance of about sixty miles. The narrow channel between these two countries is connected by an underwater chain of reefs, sandbanks and islets. Legend tells us that the monkey warrior Hanuman threw giant boulders into the ocean at this location to make a road for Lord Rama to march his armies to Sri Lanka and do battle with the demon king, Ravana. Rumor also has it that out there on those reefs known as Adam’s Bridge are some great cloud breaks just waiting to be discovered. [Maybe next trip.]
A few miles out onto the sand peninsula we abandoned our 2-wheel drive SUV and rented a 4-wheel drive truck to get us, and our equipment, across the dunes to Dhanushkodi. The waves were not that great when we got there but the shore break was massively suicidal. So everyone hit the water and had a great time until we had all been pounded nearly to death! As the old proverb goes, “Surfing isn’t a matter of life and death, its more important than that!”
The last stop on our tour was the very southern most tip of India, Kanya Kumari [Cape Camorin]. The waves were huge and the wind was near hurricane force. Nothing really to ride that day so we turned our wheels north again and headed back up the coast to hit all those great spots one more time before heading home.
The last day and the last wave of the trip [at the Shore Temple] Rick cranked a hard bottom turn on a medium size wave, caught the fin of his 8 foot nose-rider on the bottom and came up with no fin and the back of his board broken in half – a heartbreaking ending for an otherwise terrific fourteen days of surfing.
King Neptune on the left and the author on the right