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Coastal village near Chennai turns surfing hotspot, attracts international surfers to ride waves

From promoting local talent to boosting small scale businesses in the village, the surf school has caused a significant shift in the lives of the fisherfolk and their families. 

By: Sidharth MP

Chennai’s surfing culture

Kovalam is just like many of the fishing hamlets that dot the scenic East Coast Road that connects Chennai and Pondicherry.

Located 40 km away from Chennai city, it is the hub of Chennai’s Surfing culture and has been playing host the annual Covelong Surfing festival, attracting international surfers to ride the waves and compete against the best of home-grown talent. 

This time around, the 8th edition of the Surf festival attracted teams from around ten countries including Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bali, etc. 
 

 

(Photograph:WION)

It began in 2012

It all began in 2012, when a watersports enthusiast and entrepreneur, Arun Vasu met an enterprising local fisherman Murthy Megavan, via a common friend, Yotam Agam.

What now stands as a building, with a restaurant and a surf school, grew out of a small rented house, after a fair share of crests and troughs. 

(Photograph:WION)

Helping youth out of their intoxication habits: Arun Vasu

Reminiscing about the journey of the Surf School, Arun Vasu, Chairman, and Managing Director, TT group told WION, “When we started, the biggest challenge was helping the youth out of their intoxication habits. But soon, surfing gave them the right push and we could conduct a surf festival. We kept attracting more children and youth from the village by ensuring that they were given free access to surfboards if they spent time to help the surf school in any way.” 
 

(Photograph:WION)

A positive change

From promoting local talent to boosting small scale businesses in the village, the surf school has caused a significant shift in the lives of the fisherfolk and their families.

The school that began with barely 3 full-time employees, has now grown up to 20, with many more joining in on a part-time basis.

Cosy and comfortable rooms have turned into home-stays to accommodate the guests and surfing enthusiasts that flock here. 

(Photograph:WION)

Winning at National and International events

The village also has its superstars who have brought laurels at National and International events.

Rajasekar, who had been surfing for nine years has taken his fitness game to the highest levels and is a fitness trainer at a nearby gym. 

Dharani, a diploma holder from the village says, “initially I spent my precious time playing cards and betting, then I focussed on surfing and I have won 7 National championships. My father never used to appreciate me for surfing, but now even he speaks about me with pride”, he exuded. 

(Photograph:WION)

Boost in the economy

Jonty Rhodes, the former South African cricketer, who is also the brand ambassador of the surfing festival told WION, ''Surfing is not a mainstream sport in India, but has picked up well over the last decade. Now that surfing is an Olympic sport, with a little support from the government, India too can make its Olympic foray shortly. Here the best part is that the surfing school involves the local people, hence boosting the local economy and the people get good exposure in their backyard.''

(Photograph:WION)

A source of income

Speaking of the sea change that the surfing culture has brought to the village, Murthy Megavan the co-founder of the Surf school says, ''We were once just fishermen with low education, but today our skill attracts foreigners and the who’s who of society. When we train them, we also learn English by interacting with them. Over 200 families live a better life due to the additional income from the surf school. I always tell my boys that they use to be grateful to the sport, as it is a great leveller and has empowered us so much”.

(Photograph:WION)