Every beach has its own charm. Taking a stroll on Kovalam, one can unfailingly spot many surfers. The place is widely known for producing some of the best surfers in the country. Boys as young as eight can be seen standing tall on their surfing boards, negotiating the current and riding the waves.
This is what they love doing and it has a thrilling effect on the onlooker. It was there in full display at the last month's Indian Open of Surfing in Mengaluru, where the Kovalam gang was the cynosure of all eyes, winning 12.
Winning has become a habit for these gifted talents. Digging deep into their narrative, one can feel a sense of calm in their demeanour, and a good dose of confidence. Surfing has played a vital role in shaping their lives, an observation which Sekar Patchai, an experienced surfer from the renowned Covelong Point, acknowledges. “This is my life. The sport has given us recognition. Without it, we won't be doing this interview,” the 27-year-old asserts, with a thoughtful gaze.
During his teenage days, surfing helped Dharani Selvakumar cope with domestic issues that his fisherman father's unrestrained drinking brought about. One of the best surfers in the country, Dharani, who also boasts an engineering degree, is glad that he chose surfing. “Dad would come back home drunk and start a fight with mom. It was frustrating,” he recalls.
The 25-year-old has found his calling in the waters. “It's really addictive and it has helped me a great deal. Whenever I'm in the water, I'm in a different world altogether. It's difficult to put the feeling in words.”
One man who has handed the likes of Sekar and Dharani the licence to dream big is Murthy Megavan. Type out his name on Google, and write-ups on his inspirational tale will pop up. A fisherman-turned-surfer, Murthy keeps a close eye on all the surfers every day, with backing from TT Group and EarthSync.
Talk to any surfer and almost everyone will have an account of Murthy in their tale, how he pushed them to climb the board. In fact, he hopes one day the entire village will start surfing. “Most of the surfers here come from a fisherman background. Fishing is good but it has its drawbacks. Sometimes it's hard to get a catch. I've also seen a lot of people getting involved in petty fights. But things are improving. I tell people to have an open attitude, so that we can help push the sport and also boost the tourism industry,” Murthy says.
Signs that the influx of tourists and serious learners has helped Murthy and his boys are noticeable. Sekar and Dharani make decent money, teaching surfing to visitors as International Surfing Association's (ISA) certified instructors.
For any sport to grow, finance is a must, but support from the government has been sparse. “The government sanctioned `5 lakh for a competition supposed to be held in September 2015, but we only got `2 lakh in 2016. So we've had little support from the government. We're hoping for more in future,” Murthy says.
India is far behind the best when it comes to this sport and yet, Murthy is hopeful that the future will be better. “Winning and losing doesn't matter. I want my boys to participate in more international meets where the standard is high. If we do that, other countries will notice our talents and we can build on that. Maybe after 10-15 years we can win an international medal.”
Surfing has its own dangers. Pointing to scars on his right arm, Sekar, who represented India last year, recounts his tale. “The accident happened two years ago when I got close to the rocks and didn't get the time to manoeuvre past them. It felt like someone cut me with a knife. I lost a lot of blood.” But with their zeal for the sport, the beach boys are ready to brave the bruises and other blows to make a bigger splash.