MANGALURU: At 7 am every day, these boys aged between 7 and 15 gather at the beach without fail. Living on the coast has turned into a boon for these children of fishermen and migrant labourers from Tamil Nadu and North Karnataka, thanks to a surfing club that is dedicated to teaching them the sport, without having them worried about the expenses involved.
Deep pockets are generally a prerequisite for learning to surf, especially in India, as the sport is not yet popular. The beaches of Panambur, Tannirbhavi and Mulki are their playgrounds and instructors from the Surfing Swami Foundation, their teachers. While some are learners, others are picking up the tricks of the game from their seniors. This activity has become a daily routine for these boys who are studying in government schools and colleges.
Seventeen-year-old Selva, son of a truck driver who hails from Vellore in Tamil Nadu, says that surfing has helped him improve his concentration levels and do well in studies. A second PUC student, he has won prizes in a couple of local surfing contests and hopes to focus on the sport if he gets sponsorships. “I will not quit my studies. That will be my first priority,” he adds which means that the purpose of teaching these boys the skills has been met.
According to Gaurav Hegde, a member of Dakshina Kannada District Tourism Core Committee, the idea of teaching surfing skills to the underprivileged children living close to beaches was conceived three years ago mainly to prevent them from falling prey to bad habits, which coastal youth are prone to.
“This (surfing) keeps them occupied and develops sportsmanship. Either they became athletes or lifeguards. They get a certification using which they can find jobs as lifesavers or surfing instructors anywhere, for which there is huge demand these days,” says Hegde.
Manjunath, who hails from Mariyammanahalli in Hospete taluk of Ballari district and who has won a prize in Indian Open Surfing Contest, is grateful to the Surfing Swami Foundation which taught them the surfing skills. “It has helped us improve in several ways. By teaching the skills to tourists, we have picked up English and we also earn some money which will help us support our families.” The Foundation shares with these surfing-instructor boys a part of the fee they charge from tourists who come to learn surfing.
Last year, over a dozen boys took part in the national level surfing contest held at Covelong in Tamil Nadu, a major surfing destination in the country. “They could not win prizes as the competition was tough and also because of the stronger waves compared to Mangaluru beaches. But there are 2-3 boys who have a lot of potential to win the prizes in big games of future,” says Hegde.
The training of these boys has also helped in making the beaches along this coast safer. During holidays, the young surfers double as lifeguards to help with the increased number of visitors who throng the beaches. They have saved 2-3 lives so far. According to Hegde, the fastest mode of saving a person drowning in the sea is by using a surfboard. “In countries like Australia, people are saved within 15-20 seconds. That culture will have to be developed here too for which we need more and more surfers. In the coming days, there are plans to start surfing even in Bengre beach,” he says.
Learn the skill
Surfing can be learnt within 3-7 days. However, to become an expert, people need regular practice contest today
Surfing Swami Foundation is organising a surfing contest ‘Mantra Grom Search’ at Panambur Beach on May 19 for U-16 and U-13 surfers. Most of the 30 boys who are expected to participate have been trained free of cost by the foundation. Yathish Baikampady, CEO, Panambur Beach Tourism Development Project, says the aim of the event is to identify and nurture talented young surfers. “Participating in such events gives the kids an idea of competitive surfing...,” he says. Compared to last year’s event at Covelong, the boys have shown significant improvement in their skills, he says. “The event also intends to introduce surfing and other water sports to more kids to improve the surfing scenario in India. At least 25 children from Mulki, Panamburu and Tannirbhavi are expected to attend,” he says.