Why India’s picking up speed as the next big thing in surfing
(CNN) — Forget Hawaii, California and Bali. India could be the next big thing in the surfing world.
After all, with 4,350 miles of coastline, the world’s seventh-largest country has no shortage of tiny beaches and big swells.
While surf infrastructure is still in its infancy, dozens of pro and amateur surfers are finding their way to Mantra Surf Club — said to be India’s first surf club.
From their remote location in the southwestern state of Karnataka, the club’s founders have watched the sport gain traction over the past 10 years.
“India happens to be a very special place,” Rammohan Paranjape, a surfing instructor from Karnataka, tells CNN Travel.
“You have empty beaches and waves to yourself. And, on top of that, you get to experience an amazing culture. It makes for one of the best surfing trips ever.”
Surfing’s last frontier
Paranjape is an ambassador of the pioneering Mantra Surf Club, which opened over a decade ago.
In this far-flung region, where you’re more likely to share the beach with a crab than another person, Jack Hebner and Rick Perry — two passionate American surfers — chose to set up shop on a small beach in a tiny fishing village near Mangalore.
“Back in 2007 (when the club was officially established), surfing was still unheard of,” says Paranjape.
“Generally, in India, there is a culture of avoiding the ocean, rather than embracing it, so that really put us on the back foot.”
Despite the late start, Mantra quickly became a go-to surf club.
“Since opening, we have taught thousands of people how to surf, from celebrities of the cricket world to Bollywood stars.”
Onboarding the next-generation
Paranjape says that he is among a small cohort of “first generation” surfers in India, having picked up the sport about 12 years ago.
Now, the club is training the second generation.
Brithi Hegde is one of them. At 10 years old, Hegde is already participating in surfing competitions.
“Before I didn’t know about surfing,” Hegde tells CNN Travel. “My father brought me to the beach with all of his friends and I saw them surfing — it was really exciting for me.”
It didn’t take long for Hegde to learn. Now, it’s something she looks forward to.
“When you are riding on the wave, you see fish jumping and you feel it is so good.”
A way of life
Paranjape credits surfing with keeping him fit and healthy.
But he says the sport is about much more than getting some exercise.
“It makes you appreciate nature and beauty,” says Paranjape. “Most surfers care deeply about the environment, their surroundings and the beaches.”
When you’re out on the water, alone with the waves and your thoughts, he says it can at times feel meditative.
“Surfing can have a very deep impact on your life, physically or mentally,” says Paranjape.
“It keeps you very humble and makes you very small in the ocean. You can’t control the elements whether it’s the waves … you have to adapt and go with the flow and rides the waves.”
Whether beginners or veterans, Mantra Surf Club reserves its lessons for members and those who stay at adjacent Ashram Surf Retreat.
In addition, the company provides off-beat surf camps that travel to remote and untouched areas, such as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands or the Lakshadweep Islands.
The trip includes photography and videography to ensure you have all your best rides captured on camera. In addition to surfing, the retreats also incorporate morning yoga, meditation sessions and lots of watersports such as stand-up paddle boarding and wakeboarding.
While learning to ride a wave might be similar everywhere, Paranjape says the surfing experience in India is unique.
“It’s not just about surfing — it’s about experiencing a place’s culture, it’s food and its people and the different regions and all those things,” says Paranjape.
“At some point, India will have its own developed surf culture. Like what we find in places like California and Bali, surfing will become part of the lifestyle, especially around the coastline.”