Thanks to the country’s vast coastline, surfing in India is a dream, and one that’s available almost all year round. There are plenty of schools to choose from on the west and the east coast, but it’s not always easy to make a discerning selection. This guide lists out everything you need to know before you hit the waves, from how to pick your instructor and surf camp, to the best surfing spots in the country.
The west coast states of Goa, Karnataka, and Kerala are prime spots for beginners from November until March. The waves aren’t too harsh, and it’s a good time to get acquainted with a surfboard in the water. More experienced surfers can surf during the pre- and post-monsoon periods, when the swells pick up a bit.
A good time to head to the east coast is between June and August. Talk to the surf schools you plan to visit before you head out, as they’ll be able to provide the best advice.
Yes. It is very important to know how to swim if you’re going to learn how to surf. If an instructor told me swimming isn’t a necessary skill to surf, I would head in the opposite direction pretty darn quickly.
It also helps to feel comfortable in and under the water. Luckily, that is something that you can pick up along the way. Over the years, I’ve observed that most Indians are not naturally comfortable in the ocean. They are either conditioned to be afraid of drowning while growing up, or overestimate their ability to swim in the ocean. While you don’t have to be able to swim as well as Michael Phelps to learn how to surf, you should know the extent of your skill and be honest about it with your instructors so that they can give you the kind of attention you deserve in the water.
Technically—and you may roll your eyes at this—you can surf almost anywhere that has waves, even Mumbai! India has thousands of kilometres of coastline so there are bound to be plenty of waves. The best spots in India are along the southern parts of the east and west coasts. It is a common misconception that you need gigantic waves to surf. Often beginners ask if “the waves in India are big enough to surf on.” Actually, most surfers are comfortable with head-high to overhead waves. As a beginner, you’re going to be in the white water for the most part, so it doesn’t really matter how big the wave is.
Having said that, in my opinion the best spots I’ve seen for beginners are probably Kerala, Mangalore in Karnataka, and Goa.
Perfect your pop-up before you head out. Photo: techbreeze/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
As a tourism activity and a sport, surfing is developing very rapidly in India, so it’s important to pick your surf camp wisely. I’d take the time to talk to the instructors or the camp managers before booking, to understand how they operate and get their qualifications (there aren’t any rules in India on surfing just yet). Make sure they have done a course on surf instructing and have finished their lifeguarding and surf-rescue courses as well. Any qualified instructor is required to do a course on lifeguarding, and should be able to perform a basic beach rescue.
Talk to the camp about the kind of equipment they have and then make your choice. They should provide you with the board and a rash vest. Take experience into account: a local who has also grown up in the area is probably going to know a lot more about it than someone who hasn’t. I’ve seen my fair share of guys around the world who don’t have the best qualifications but are really great instructors, and are local legends for pulling people out of the sea! But I’d always urge you to surf with a qualified surf instructor who has done their lifeguarding course.
It is very difficult to put an accurate measurement on learning in general. Combine that with an activity like surfing and it could get into a long philosophical discussion on whether one ever fully ”knows” to surf. Any pro will tell you he still has much more to learn. Remember that surfing, just like any other sport, takes some time to get good at, and the more you practice, the better you will get.
To learn the basics, you should give yourself about seven to ten lessons with a qualified surf coach. You can probably stand up on one of your first few ”whitewash” waves after a lesson or two. But everyone’s ability is different and conditions vary from day to day. You could be killing it one day and struggling the next. Don’t be disappointed—just keep at it.
Group surf lessons cost, on average, around ₹1,500 to ₹2,500 per session. This should cover equipment and 1.5 to 2 hours of instruction. Your first lesson will usually be what we call an ABC. This includes an introduction to the parts of the board, and information about the spot you are at, such as currents, sand bars, waves and geography. You will spend the first half of the lesson on the beach practicing your pop-up (the motion of jumping to your feet on a board), followed by a 45-minute session during which your instructor will paddle out with you into the whitewash and push you into waves.
Book about three to five lessons to begin with, but be prepared for differences in grasping abilities. Usually, you should be wading out with your instructor after your first half-hour on the beach. So you’ll be in the water in your first lesson.
Most surf camps offer the option of single or one-off lessons as well. So if you’re not entirely sure it’s for you, suss out how you feel about being on a board before committing to two weeks upfront.
The surf scene in India is growing fast. International tourists are also discovering the quiet waves in India and visiting our coastlines in hordes. The SFI (Surfing Federation of India) is organising surf instructor courses in India in coordination with the ISA (International Surfing Association). We have many local surf companies that have the right kind of credentials, and they’re worth checking out for your first lesson.
Kerala: Soul & Surf, Varkala and Kovalam Surf Club
Mangalore: Mantra Surf Ashram and Shaka Surf Club
Goa: Surfwala and Vaayu
Pondicherry: Kallialay Surf School
Mahaballipuram: Ocean Delight Surf School and Mumu Surf School
The beaches in and around Varkala, Kerala are great for beginners. Photo: Henrik Jagels/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Bali is great for all levels of surfers, from absolute beginners to pros. But unfortunately the flights from India tend to be quite expensive. Be prepared for crowds in the water. Lots of crowds.
Sri Lanka is one of my favourite places to travel to; I love the vibe, the people and the island culture. The waves on the south coast, near Mirissa and Weligama, are great for all levels. It’s a good improver and intermediate place to surf, but there are waves for surfers of all abilities, from absolute beginners to pros. The tickets from India are relatively inexpensive, plus you can get a visa on arrival.
It’s easy for beginners to get wrapped up in the consumer culture of surfing, get excited, and buy the most expensive pro board on the market. If you’re not surfing regularly, there is no need to buy a board after just three lessons. Give it some time. Use rental boards, figure out the kind of waves you like, where you want to surf, and then buy a board that suits your skill set. That way, you’ll progress a lot faster and have a lot more fun.
If you’re still interested in having your own board, the best beginner-level board is the Mini Mal, which measures about seven to eight feet. You want a bit of volume because you’re going to be paddling around a lot, and heft makes it easier to catch waves. Remember, as a beginner, you want to catch as many waves as possible and though short boards look really cool, they’re not going to help you do that.
Persistence is key. Surfing is by no means an easy hobby to pursue, but it can be very rewarding. You are going to get tired, so take your time and enjoy the ride. It has taken professional surfers years of practice and being beaten by reefs, beaches and waves to get to their level, and they still find it hard sometimes!
Pace yourself: You’re going to use a lot of muscles that you may not have used for a long time, so don’t try to do everything on your first lesson. Take the time to understand how to balance on the board and ease yourself into it.
Paddle, paddle, paddle: Remember that 80 per cent of your surfing life is going to be paddling. Get used to it!
Practice your pop-up: Practice your pop-up as much as you can. If you make that part of your muscle memory, you will have a lot more time to think about the other things you need to do on the waves. Practice pop-ups on land as much as you can before you get into the water. Pop up every chance you get, and do lots of push-ups to build the muscles you need.
Trust your instinct: If you think it’s out of your league, you don’t have to paddle out to it. It is perfectly okay to say, “I’ll sit this one out.” Work your way up. Don’t paddle out of your depth. Stay safe!
Respect the process: Show respect for the other surfers in the line-up. Don’t be possessive about the waves you’re riding. More importantly, have respect for the ocean. It is a powerful force of nature so it’s okay to be afraid of it. Better yet, turn that fear into respect.
And, most importantly,
Always have fun: There is no point in surfing if you’re not having fun. The best surfer isn’t the one getting all the waves—it’s the one having the most fun.
was born and brought up in Mumbai, but left the city for a quieter place where he could surf as much as possible. He now lives and works at Soul and Surf in Varkala, Kerala.
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