SURF N’ TURF
GETTING BALANCE right is the key. The surfboard has a tendency to rock from side to side, or back and forth, depending on how it is oriented to the waves. The board is inherently balanced, leave it to its own devices and it will never sink, flip or topple. But put an ounce of weight on it and it will rock and if you aren't careful, it will capsize. Forget about standing up on the board, that’s a long way away. Getting your body flat on the board without it rocking violently is turning out to be quite a challenge. But I’ve got the entire day to figure it out. The beach was empty, the waves weren't going to stop anytime soon and the sun had a long way to go before it tucked itself behind the horizon.
When you think of surfing, exotic locales like Hawaii and Bali are probably the first things that pop in to your mind. And if you're on a budget, you might just think of the white sands of Goa or the endless beaches of Orissa. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. To those of you who are reading this in north India, I can’t be of much help but to all of you in Mumbai and Pune, here's a quick tip — pack an overnight bag and head down to Alibaug. Actually scratch that, you don’t even need to pack an overnight bag. You can just drive down in the morning, spend the day there and tuck into your own beds that very night. Surfing on a properly tight budget, then?
We drove down to Alibaug from our base in Pune early one morning (all you Mumbaikars can take a ferry, but you wouldn't be evo India readers if you were considering that, eh?) to spend a day in Alibaug, trying our hand at surfing. And keeping with all this talk of being on a budget, we were heading there in a Datsun redi-GO. One look at the redi-GO and you know it’s a proper city car. It’s got a tiny footprint, a small, frugal engine and a fair bit of space on the inside — perfect for a family of four to potter about in the city and go about their day-to-day lives. But what if I told you that underneath this shroud of practicality, the redi-GO makes for a car that you can have a blast with as well? Last month, we went paragliding in the redi-GO (check out evo India #40) and this month we’re going surfing. Off the beaten track, you say? Way, way off is where we’re taking this little erm… ‘city’ car.
Alibaug is a sleepy fishing town little less than 150km from Pune, on the western coast of the country. Getting there is pretty straightforward. You drive towards Mumbai, take the exit for Khopoli at the second toll booth of the Mumbai-Pune expressway and then follow the road to Poynad via Pen. That is the shortest route, but it certainly isn’t the nicest route to take. The road isn’t in the best condition and the heavy truck traffic makes it a pain to drive on. It’s a single carriageway all the way through and doesn't make for a remotely enjoyable drive. Instead, after taking the exit at Khopoli, I recommend you take the road to
Off the beaten track, you say? Way, way off is where we’re taking this erm... ‘city’ car
Pali and then turn towards Poynad. It’s longer by some 30km, but is infinitely more enjoyable. And being relatively emptier, progress is swift and it takes about the same amount of time.
We managed to do the drive in little over three hours — great time in a little car like the redi-GO. You’d think it would be like a fish out of water on a six-laned highway like the Mumbai-Pune expressway, but it will surprise you. It maintains a good pace, without the small engine feeling strained. Get it up to fifth gear and it is more than comfortable cruising around the 80kmph speed limit. The road to Pali is narrow, but exceptionally smooth with some gorgeous corners thrown in to it for added effect. At Pali, you turn back towards Poynad and the good roads continue. Only the last patch right before Alibaug gets a little rough. On the smoother stuff, the redi-GO holds its own, cornering well and keeping you entertained behind the wheel. And on the rougher stuff, the soft suspension which has been tuned for the
spectacular roads our cities have to offer soaks up the bumps really well. The suspension is, without a doubt, a highlight of the redi-GO.
Once you’re in Alibaug, the simplest thing to do would be to park your car on the closest bit of tarmac to the sand, grab your gear and walk to the sea shore. But where’s the adventure in that? We were here in a city hatchback and the whole point of bringing it all the way here was to push the limits of what it is capable off. On to the beach it goes! Turning off the tarmac, it squeezed through the dense shrubbery on the rutted path leading up to the beach. And once we got on to the sand, it was a breeze.
But wait! City car? Two driven wheels? Won’t it get beached in the sand? What happened to needing AWD!? Well, if the sand is packed hard enough, you shouldn't have a problem. You’ve just got to remember a few basic things to minimise your chances of getting stuck — maintain momentum, don’t stop on the loose stuff, be gentle with your inputs and don’t turn in too sharply. Let out a bit of air from the tyres before getting on to the sand to increase their contact patch, and you’re good to go. The redi GO is a light car so it doesn’t dig itself too deep on sand. The weight is also concentrated up front, over the driven wheels so traction is increased.
The whole point of bringing the redi-GO here was to push the limits of what it is capable off
After I’d had my fair share of hooning around, I parked the car under a palm tree and got down to the task at hand — learning how to surf.
I pull out the surfboard from the car. Yes, it fit inside with the rear seats folded down — this was a short board, not the longboards that you see gliding over those massive waves with professionals astride them. Guido Bothe had been watching me patiently for a while now, waiting for me to finish getting my kicks behind the wheel. Guido is a friend of evo India, and happens to be of mechanical bent himself. He’s started a company called Chinkara Motors and builds a car called the Roadster, in addition to boats and ships and all sorts of other whacky machines. His workshops are in Alibaug and he knows the place like the back of his hand. He comes here for his adrenalin fix — surfing, parasailing, jet-skiing — you name it. He was going to be my surfing coach for the day.
Balance was the first thing he taught me. Once you were on the board, you have to position your body correctly over the board so that it isn’t imbalanced. This is slightly tricky, as the board is constantly rocking to every single shift of your weight. After a couple of tumbles and mouthfuls of salty seawater, I seemed to have got the hang of it. And then there was
practicing paddling. Every time you’ve surfed a wave to the shore, you’ve got to be able to paddle back to the sea to wait for the next wave. If you’ve got your balance in order, this is fairly simple — picture freestyle swimming without using your legs and in a much less frantic manner so you don’t imbalance the board.
The waves were quite a disappointment that day though. Wind was negligible and that means the waves weren’t as big as we’d have liked them to be. We couldn't really practice standing up on the board — we just had to use the surfboard as a bodyboard and ride the waves to the shore. But Guido says I did well. I picked up quickly and managed to grasp the basics without too much of trouble. And that I’d need to be back on a day with better waves to actually get up on to the board.
As for the redi-GO, it did great. I think Datsun took a leaf out of a surfing guide book when they made the redi-GO. You see, it makes for a great city car but it is plenty capable of tackling the wild outdoors and doing something adventurous. It’s as comfortable on the highway as it is squeezing through peak hour traffic. It is as comfortable sliding around on a beach as it is doing the grocery errands. They seem to have got the balance of this small car spot on.
Right: Maintain momentum and you wont beach yourself in the sand. Below: Enough space in this small car for my surfboard
Left: Who said you can’t have fun in a city car? Facing page, main: The redi-GO is light and that means driving on sand is easy. Far right: Guido was my surfing coach for the day