Photo: Srinivasan.Clicks/Shutterstock

A Look Inside the Rising Surf Culture of India

India Surfing
by Uma Muthuraaman Dec 16, 2015

SURFERS ARRIVE THROUGHOUT THE YEAR to ride its waves. The best surf sports are along Chennai’s East Coast Road (ECR). Some surf spots along the ECR are surrounded by ancient and historic Hindu temples too.

Although India has a long coastline spanning the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, local surf culture here is relatively new. Besides a handful of surfers who passed through on wave scouting missions, it wasn’t until American Jack Hebner — now fondly known as “surf swami” — set up a surf school in 2004 that there was much of an organized scene.

Since then, surf culture has slowly spread along the east and west coast: Mangalore, Kovalam in Kerala, Goa, Chennai, Pondicherry and the island of Andamans.

This young and vibrant surf scene in India is mirrored in the story of Murthy Megavan. Murthy was born in the late 1970s into a poor fishing family in Kovalam beach near Chennai. His father left the family due to a feud and it was up to Murthy to provide for his grandmother, mother and sister. He dropped out of school and began fishing. And with nothing (no local surf culture, no equipment) to draw upon but his own fascination for waves, he also began surfing, paddling out on crude wooden planks.

In 2001, an American surfer named Jack Hebner met Murthy at Kovalam beach. He borrowed the Hebner’s board and in just a short time was riding like a pro. Over the next few years, Chennai’s surf spots spread word of mouth among American, Australian, Eurpoean, and Israeli surfers. Then in 2004 the Tsunami devastated much of the coastline, including Murthy’s fishing boat. Murthy focused even more on surfing as a way to help local youth. After Hebner returned and founded India’s first surf school in 2004, everyone who came through Kovalam beach noticed Murthy as the remarkably dexterous local surfer and devoted social worker. To borrow from Hawaiian culture, he served the role of ambassador of aloha. Murthy never approached the visiting surfers for help or a money. Instead he just enjoyed surfing and hanging out.

Yotam Agam, a well-known Israeli entrepreneur in Chennai, took an immense liking for Murthy and his attitude, and produced a video about Murthy on YouTube. Soon the print media followed, which got the attention of many locals who wanted to give surfing a try. Kovalam beach, which is about 40 kilometers from the city of Chennai, gradually began to get local surf tourism on the weekends. Visiting surfers came looking for Murthy. They loved surfing with him and sharing their stories. More importantly, they loved his story.

As the momentum grew, a prominent businessman in Chennai, Arun Vasu, took notice of Murthy and offered to build a surf school around his talent. Thus, Covelong Point Surf School opened in November 2012.

The surf season in Chennai starts in the pre-monsoon month April and continues until the end of the monsoon season in September. Covelong Point is an exposed beach and reef break that has a pretty reliable surf. Offshore winds are from the west northwest. The ideal swell direction is from the east southeast. Typically this coast inherits the wave conditions in Bali two or three days later. Waves at the beach break both left and right and there is right hand reef break too.

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