Surfing in South India
Surfing Swami South India. © Mantra Surf Club
Swami explores surf virgin waters.
Just imagine - you are lying on your bed with your head on your pillow dreaming of glassy waves, well-formed barrels, long lines, slightly offshore winds with nobody out but you and your friends. Then you wake up and find out - Hey! You're not dreaming - you're in South India and the surf is great! More than 7,000 kilometers of virgin Indian coastline and lots of great waves with nobody in the water - that's surfing in India. You just have to be here at the right time to get the waves.
India’s surf team captain Kiran Kumar. © Mantra Surf Club
Our last surf trip to the southernmost part of the sub-continent was at the right time and we got some really great waves.
In two weeks my friend from Hawaii, Rick ‘Babaji’ Perry and three local boys from Karnataka, Kiran, Kishore and Sri Krishna, hit many good spots along the coast between Chennai and Kanya Kumari. The best waves we scored were in Mahabalipuram and Manapad. Actually, that's a lie and I shouldn't tell lies. The truth is that we found several previously unknown spots on this trip never surfed before and with some really great waves [right and left point breaks over shallow rock shelf]. We decided to keep these spots a secret just in case India ever does get inundated by vacation surfers. If that ever becomes a reality then we will have at least preserved a couple of secret spots for ourselves. Remember what Confucius said, "Keep smiling and keep the best surf spots secret for just you and your friends." Was that Confucius or was that Buddha? Anyway, you know what it’s all about.
The spot we surfed at Mahabalipuram is a right-hander called "Shore Temple". This is by no means a secret spot, it is well known to every surfer in India and to many international surfers. The spot gets its name from the imposing temple of Visnu that stands on the beachhead. The temple was built over 1,000 years ago by the Pallava dynasty of kings. The best spot in the lineup is just in front of the rock wall that protects the ancient shrine. Making the first section you barely miss scraping the side of your board on the rocks [This spot reminds me of Point Panic in Honolulu, Hawaii]. After that, it's a nice hollow wall that peels off for about 100 yards - fast sections and plenty of room for radical maneuvers depending on your capabilities.
A remarkable feature of the beach at the southern side of the Shore Temple is that you can dig down about 5 feet in the sand and get pure drinking water when the ocean is just 60 feet away. That's got to be unique.
At Mahabalipuram, we rented an air-conditioned/thatched-roof cottage on the beach for less than $40 per night and everyone pilled in. This was great surfing and comfortable living at its best. In and around the town there are many massive stone carvings from antiquity to wonder at. You get the feeling in Mahabalipuram that you have come to surf in some kind of never-never-land. Did Peter Pan ever surf? If so he would have loved this place.
With arms wide open, Rick ‘Babaji’ Perry. © Mantra Surf Club
At Manapad Point and all points south, it was just the five of us and although the wind conditions those days could have been better we still had all the waves we wanted. But when is enough surf really enough? Never!
Manapad and other spots that we surfed were all point breaks that emptied into fishing harbors with quaint villages on the beach. Fishing from small boats with handheld lines is a way of life for many coastal people in India, a way of life that they have been following since hoary antiquity. Each village has lots of friendly locals, especially the kids who are more than stoked to watch the surfing but who are mortified at the thought of swimming far out into the ocean. Oh well, someone had to do it and it happened to be us!
Not many surfers have visited Manapad, Tamil Nadu. © Mantra Surf Club
While surfing Manapad and the other nearby breaks we stayed nights in the little temple town of Tiruchindur. This was the best place to base our party because between Tiruchendur and Kanya Kumari there are no hotels.
However, there are fishermen's huts that you can rent - provided you don't mind sleeping with the smell of rotting fish. We didn't like that idea so we opted for a nice inexpensive hotel in Tiruchendur with an attached vegetarian restaurant. A good meal and a clean place to sleep is all that any surfer could ask for!
On the drive down to Manapad from Mahabalipuram, we turned due east at Madurai and headed toward Rameswaram. Driving for a couple of hours we then crossed the Indira Gandhi Bridge with Palk Bay on our left and the Gulf of Mannar on our right. The long bridge took us to the island of Rameswaram. From there we proceeded across a finger-like peninsula of sand to a place called Dhanushkodi. From Dhanushkodi on a clear day, you can almost see the island of Sri Lanka - it is a distance of about sixty miles. The narrow channel between these two countries is connected by an underwater chain of reefs, sandbanks, and islets. Legend tells us that the monkey warrior Hanuman threw giant boulders into the ocean at this location to make a road for Lord Rama to march his armies to Sri Lanka and do battle with the demon king, Ravana. Rumor also has it that out there on those reefs are known as Adam's Bridge are some great cloud breaks just waiting to be discovered. [Maybe next trip.]
A few miles out onto the sandy peninsula we abandoned our 2-wheel drive SUV and rented a 4-wheel drive truck to get us, and our equipment, across the dunes to Dhanushkodi. The waves were not that great when we got there but the shore break was massively suicidal. So everyone hit the water and had a great time until we had all been pounded nearly to death! As the old proverb goes, "Surfing isn't a matter of life and death, its more important than that!"
The island town of Rameswaram, where we stayed the night, is home to one of India's most famous temples, the Rameswaraswamy Temple [dedicated to Siva]. The temple is a fine example of Dravidian architecture and its four magnificent corridors lined with elaborately sculptured pillars is an awe-inspiring experience.
The last stop on our tour was the very southernmost tip of India, Kanya Kumari [Cape Camorin]. The waves were huge and the wind was near hurricane force. Nothing really to ride that day so we turned our wheels north again and headed back up the coast to hit all those great spots one more time before heading home.