India Today - - INSIDE - —Jyothy Karat

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.


PAD­DLE BOARDER Tan­viJagdishis­the lo­cal­favouriteto winatSFI’sIn­dian OpenofSurf­ing

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