THE MAGNIFICENT JEEPS OF BHOPAL
In his 1697 book, A New Voyage Around the World, the English explorer William Dampier described a primitive watercraft used by the Tamils on the Coromandel coast. He called it the ‘catamaran’ (from the Tamil kettumaram, meaning ‘logs bound together’). But you could say it was the first stand-up paddleboard in India, if not the world. This week, it’s the modern version making—or riding—waves, at the second annual Indian Open of Surfing in Mulki, Karnataka. Close on the heels of two third-place finishes in US contests, 17-year-old Tanvi Jagdish will be carving the water in the May 26-28 competition.
In the US, Tanvi placed third in the open women’s category at the SUP Surf Pro-Am, and also in standup paddle racing at the West Marine Carolina Cup in North Carolina. Last year, she was ranked 16th at the Fiji ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship, out of 247 participants from around the globe.
Those wins are important. Stand-up paddling (SUP) and surfing are still very young sports in India. Moreover, it’s especially difficult for young women like Tanvi, given Indian society’s views on girls hanging out with boys, exposing their legs in board shorts and allowing the sun to darken their skin.
“I started surfing when I was ten, with my granny’s permission. But my parents did not know,” she says. “When they found out, my mother forbade me from surfing again because she thought it was too dangerous.” For four years, Tanvi honoured her mother’s wishes. But the ocean was just too much fun to deny. When she returned to the water, she discovered stand-up paddling, a lesser-known offshoot of surfing. Falling in love with the paddle, she vowed to one day rank among the top five competitors in the world. Her family’s concerns notwithstanding, the Mulki resident was born in the right place to do it.
A dozen-odd years ago, when there were hardly any surfers in India, the sport found an unlikely ambassador: a 70-year-old American Krishna devotee from Florida named Jack Hebner. Also known as Swami, Hebner co-founded the Mantra Surf Club in Mulki in 2004, along with fellow Krishna devotee Rick Perry (aka Babaji). Dubbed ‘the Surfing Swamis’, they’re still the most colourful and revered names among India’s wave-riders.
It was at their club that Tanvi learned to surf. And some of Hebner and Perry’s disciples, such as Rammohan Paranjape, were instrumental in creating the Surfing Federation of India (SFI)—which organises the Indian Open of Surfing and most other similar competitions in the country. “There were just a handful of surfers in India in 2000-2004,” Paranjape recalls. “Not many people were interested or even curious.” That’s changing—fast. Last year, SFI’s Indian Open of Surfing in Mangalore drew about 15,000 people. This year, it’s expected to draw 20,000 or more—including surfers and SUP enthusiasts from all over the world.
Among them—the local favourite—is Tanvi, the Surfing Swamis’ most successful pupil so far. This time, maybe her mother will be watching. “She feels very scared when I surf,” says Tanvi.
THIS YEAR, THE SFI INDIAN OPEN OF SURFING IN MANGALORE IS EXPECTED TO DRAW ABOUT 20,000 PEOPLE
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