One of the most common observations Ishita Malaviya has to hear—when people, sometimes even strangers, find out about her chosen sport—is that surfing must inevitably lead to undesirable tanning. After all, this is India, and a fair complexion takes a girl a long way. But that doesn’t bother this 22-year-old, who is possibly the first girl to risk a board on the choppy waters of the Arabian Sea, and co-runs a surf club based in Manipal, Karnataka, which is just eight kilometres from the beach at Kodi Bengre, a small fishing village on the windswept Konkan coast.
It all started about five years ago, when two friends, Ishita and school buddy Tushar Pathiyan, shifted base from Mumbai to Manipal to pursue higher studies. “It was then that we heard about a ‘surf ashram’ here, run by a ‘surfing swami’. When we approached the ashram, run by foreigners, to find out more, they were very excited, and we became their first Indian students,” says the petite Ishita. One morning’s trial led to another, and before long, they were more hooked to the surfing classes than their respective academic courses—journalism and architecture. This, despite only one surf board between them for the first two years of their life as surfers, owing to the high prices of surf boards and other equipment.
Needless to say, when their parents eventually found out about the new-found obsession of their wards, they didn’t quite go overboard with the idea. Thankfully, they didn’t play spoiltsport either. Ishita laughs, “We sold everything that we could find, to buy our first board ‘secondhand’—from sewing machines, ab crunchers and anything else we could do without.”
Over the years, with growing confidence and dexterity, the duo started planning their next move—getting more youngsters involved in the sport. “After a while we got pretty good at it. But we wanted more people to ride the waves,” says Ishita. This led to them setting up The Shaka Surf Club. “Shaka is a surfing term. It means ‘hang loose’, and we were particular that the name would have something to do with the sport,” she adds. Bollywood villains have nothing to worry about—no copyright issues involved.
Several years down the line, things aren’t as difficult as it was in the beginning, with the club having roped in several students, both Indian and foreign, mostly vacationers. “Honestly, we don’t have any permanent members,” Ishita says, “except for the kids in the village who come out to watch us on the waves whenever we head out to the Kodi Bengre beach.”
Apparently, none of the fisherfolk that live in this village can swim. After nearly two years as the only surfers to ride the waves here, says Ishita, a few ‘daredevil kids’ decided that they too, wanted to get into the act. “So now we teach quite a few of these little ones to surf. The youngest, believe it or not, is only five,” marvels Ishita. She adds, “There is a 12-year-old girl who we feel is pretty good. Unfortunately, she is the only girl to have ventured yet.”
Very soon, they hope to tie up with the local village school and set up a community programme for the children, that includes learning to swim and surf, lessons on water safety and awareness on cleaning up the local ecosystem.
“For us, surfing goes hand-in-hand with social awareness,” says Ishita. “In fact, we are waiting for the monsoons to be over to organise a beach cleanup with the locals.”
Although the sport is yet to make ripples in the Indian Ocean belt, Ishita emphasises that for now, it’s good to simply be on the map. “To eventually be on India’s surf team and represent the nation internationally—now, that would be a dream.” Indeed.