Ishita, India's first female professional surfer - one in a billion.
Surfing competitions are a regular in India now — but the ocean pollution is still a problem. Pic: Arun Sankar
The sea returns it’s “gifts” - cyclones often leaves parts of India's coastline strewn with rubbish. Pic: Anadolu Agency
Appu has won several surf competitions in India. Pic: Ocean Delight
Ishita Malaviya, "the first Indian ladyslider”.
12 December 21
From ABC Science: When Tushar Pathiyan and Ishita Malaviya moved to Manipal on India's west coast in the mid-2000s, neither knew their lives were about to take a left turn.
Tushar was studying architecture and Ishita journalism at Manipal University when they discovered the Surfing Swamis.
India's first surf school had been co-founded in 2004 by the original Surfing Swami, American Jack Hebner, down the coast from Manipal.
"The second year [of studying] we started surfing," Tushar says.
"For me, starting surfing as a grown-up, it flipped the game in terms of my priorities. We were chasing not so much money, but a certain lifestyle," he says.
A woman surfing in India was virtually unheard of back then, Ishita adds.
"When I first started surfing, if you literally googled surfing in India, nothing would show up," she says.
"When the competitions started, there were no women's categories."
Ishita went on to become India's first female professional surfer, competing in local events, and together with Tushar they started The Shaka Surf Club at a fishing village called Kode Bengre, about 40 kilometres up the coast from the Swamis.
Setting up a surf school in rural India came with its own set of challenges, Ishita says, but their primary goal was to get locals surfing rather than cater to tourists.
"In the rural areas I find it way harder to get girls in the water because rural families are much more conservative," she says.
"It's the patriarchy — it's the men who don't want the women to have these freedoms. But I try to push the boundaries a bit — I have to."
It's been more than 10 years since they started the club. And today, surfing in India, including with women, is taking off.
"When we started surfing, there were maybe 15 people in the whole country that surf," Tushar says.
"Now [there are] at least 20 to 30 surf schools and contests are happening — it's definitely grown."
The sea returns its 'gifts'
But the connection with the ocean that Tushar and Ishita say surfing brings comes with a heightened awareness that many of the coastal waters around India are in trouble.
In May this year, Tropical Cyclone Tauktae slammed the west coast of India, regurgitating mountains of rubbish from the ocean back onto the coastline.
At the time, many took to Twitter saying it was the ocean's way of returning the unwanted "gifts" it had been given.
Some called for stricter rules against littering.
It's a problem that east-coast champion surfer Appu is painfully familiar with.
Appu grew up in Kovalam, a fishing village on India's east coast in the state of Tamil Nadu, and says surfing has changed his life and his relationship with the ocean.
Appu runs Ocean Delight Surf School, which he founded with his schoolmate Vicky in Kovalam.
They also run Beach Ocean Life — a program trying to engage locals and their surfing clients to help look after the beach.
At this time of year, he says cyclones and heavy rains wash rubbish out of the rivers and prevailing ocean currents push it up onto the coastline.
"I've been trying to clean it for a month," Appu says. "The first clean-up I arranged about 100 people came, then the next clean-up only 10 people came.
"I don't know what to do, but I at least want to clean the beach."
He says the local government has helped a bit, but it's not enough.
Whenever there's another cyclone, the rubbish comes straight back, until the seasons change and it's washed out to sea.
"From May to June, there will be no plastic — the oceans will be clean."
'A lot of people are scared of the ocean'
Appu is currently trying to engage businesses to support a program paying women from the village to help with the clean-up.
"I tell all my students and local surfers and they understand now," he says.
"When you go to surf, you see the plastic on the wave. When you fall off you feel the plastic on your body, it's not comfortable."
Like Tushar and Ishita, Appu says he hopes that by teaching people to surf, he can also foster a respect and interest in caring for the waves.
"A lot of people are scared of the ocean in India and a lot of people don't know how to swim," he says.
"I have a program – ocean swimming class — I teach them to swim [and] they get more confident.
"I'm really happy to bring surf culture in India."
He says there's more at stake than being able to surf clean waves.
"When we throw the fish net in the ocean … and we cannot take the plastic from it, the net [is] f***ed."
"A few fish I've found plastic inside the stomach and I told my mum, 'This is why we're doing what we're doing.'
"In maybe 10 years, people will be too scared to eat fish."
- AUTHOR: NICK KILVERT
- SOURCE: ABC SCIENCE AUSTRALIA
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