Meet Sekar Patchai, who dropped out from his school when he was 10 to become a fisherman.Today, he makes the city proud by being the first Indian surfer to compete in an international competition —FIJI ISA World Surf and SUP Championship
CHENNAI: It’s half past 6 am; we notice the silhouette of a surfer, paddling and surfing his way along the sunlit waves towards the shore. A 26-year-old fisherman-turned-surfer, Sekar Patchai, who is creating ripples in the field by becoming the first Indian surfer to compete in an international championship— FIJI ISA World Surf and SUP Championship 2016, emerges from the waters with his prized possession, a paddling board. City Express catches up with one of the most sought after and recognised surfing trainers at Covelong Point Surfing School at Kovalam.
“During training sessions, I have completed 20 km in two hours and 20 minutes. The world record is one hour and 50 minutes and I am intending on breaking the record,” says Sekar who will be representing the country in the open category in two disciplines of Stand up Paddling — SUP Racing Technical and SUP Racing Distance.
Incidentally, Sekar has won over 10 national championships in the discipline and his mentor Murthy, the man behind the surfing school says that “one can bet even one crore” on the young surfer! “He has never lost in Stand up paddling and the speed in which he does it is amusing! I would confidently vouch for him!” he says proudly.
Hailing from the fishermen community in Kovalam, Sekar’s stint with the sea began when he was 10, and dropped out of school to go fishing. “I was never interested in studying. After a tiff between my father and my teacher, who hit me as I failed to complete my homework, my father asked me to do what I felt like doing. So I dropped out of school and took up our traditional occupation — fishing,” he recalls. “I became one with the sea and I could easily predict the weather, the waves, the wind speed and the current.”
For several years, Sekar has watched Murthy practice the sport in their village. “Murthy used to surf all the time, and we were all intrigued by what he did. And we wanted to learn it too.
Most of what we know today is not through personal mentoring…it’s solely by watching Murthy practice,” narrates Sekar.
Murthy had bought a board for `1,000, and later on bought two more boards. With just three boards available for everyone in the village, Sekar had to wait for a minimum of three to four hours for his turn to surf. “This made me realise the importance of a board,” he shares.
Support from his family and community was not immediate but things gradually changed, opines the surfer who is till date undefeated as a standup paddler. “My parents were initially apprehensive. It was about how much I would earn…and of course about my safety. They were worried because the sport is dangerous. But which sport isn’t?”
We met his mother Marimuthu, elder brother Sreeni and father Patchai, at
his house a few kilometers away from the surfing school. There’s a small compound with an open portico, and a bright yellow fish net makes for a colourful backdrop.
“I have six siblings (four sisters and two brothers). My elder brother is a fisherman and my younger brother works at Kabbadiwala and is a part time instructor at the surf school. The family expenses are covered with our earnings,” he says and points to the shields and medals that are stacked in the corner of their small room-cum-hall.
“I am terrified when he ventures into the sea all alone. But, when he comes home victorious I feel very proud…but as a mother I am always sacred,” says Marimuthu as she smiles bleakly. “I have struggled a lot to raise my children. My husband left fishing few years ago due to a ligament injury. My sons have been taking care of the house now, and I pray for their safety.”
As Sekar’s family and the rest of the fishing village households are slowly warming up to the concept of the sport, Sekar says that this sport as an alternative career can change the social status of the village. “Most people perceive fishermen as drunkards or people who always fight. But, that isn’t true. With proper guidance, awareness and education, we can achieve greater heights,” he avers. “People from my community recognise me. They also know that the ‘Covelong boys’ are talented…but, they need some more time to come out of the social conditioning,” he adds as he runs towards ‘his kadal’ with his paddling board.