When the west coast was closed for surfers, I headed east.
Ever since I’d surfed for the first time in January 2017, it was the only thing that had occupied my mind, conscious, and subconscious. I would go to sleep and dream of paddling into oncoming waves.
I just couldn’t wait to be back on a surfboard.
Well things came to a head when I’d had enough of my corporate job and finally decided to quit. I called Kalliallay surf school in Pondicherry and was told that they had place and would be happy to have me there. After some calls back and forth with Samai and Juan, who run the surf school, I decided that I would take the 7-day surf course since I had already learned the basics and this would help me become a more skilled surfer.
The next week was spent in trying to convince my friends to join me, but they already had plans for a Himalayan trek, so I headed out alone. Of course my parents weren’t too thrilled about letting me venture into the ocean without a support system. But when I told them that my alternative was a trek to Uttarakhand which is prone to cloud bursts and landslides, they bought my flight tickets to Chennai. And so I went on my solo journey with the hope of becoming a better surfer and learning more about myself.
After hopping off the plane at Chennai, I spent the night at my uncle’s place in Chennai before catching a bus for Pondi in the morning. There are frequent buses to Pondicherry and I took one that cost me Rs.200. It was a basic non AC bus but never during my journey did I regret my decision. So if it isn’t too hot outside, I recommend this cheaper, more frequent option. After a mesmerising ride along ECR I was super stoked about the coming few days. I hadn’t booked a return ticket because I was planning to extend my trip for as long as it took. The idea was to make it a budget trip so I could use whatever money I have to to surf more.
I was staying in a backpackers' hostel called Natura Ashram and paying Rs.400 a night for a bed in the AC dormitory. This was one of the best decisions I made because when you’re a solo traveller, a hostel such as this one helps you meet fellow travellers and make friends. My roommate Ashan and I quickly hit it off and we went outside looking for vehicles to take us around Pondi. I rented a cycle that cost me Rs. 40 a day. A two-pronged approach, it also helped me lose a lot of weight in the coming days as my routine revolved around a whole lot of cardio.
My first day of surfing was spent in going through the basics – a revision of what I'd learned before. I listened to them like an attentive student but I was restless inside as I wanted to hop on the board ASAP. The first 10 minutes were spent in teaching me to body surf. Body surfing is basically diving along a broken wave and allowing it to carry you. It was finally time to get on a board. Since I’d already done it before, I got up on my first attempt.
Unfortunately, it was an early morning session the next day and I overslept. The day after I made sure I was half an hour early to make up for my earlier tardiness. I was handed a 7 foot foam board and told to follow Juan (my supervisor) to another part of the beach with just a couple of other students. 80% of surfing is paddling, which I found out the hard way. I was exhausted by the time I reached the spot behind the breaking waves. Not only do you have to paddle for quite a distance, you also have to paddle against the waves which can quite literally knock the wind out of you.
A surfer riding a foam wave
I’d just been thrown off my board and was standing in waist-high water. All of a sudden a shooting pain went through my leg and I jumped onto my board and screamed for help. More than the pain, it was the fact that the source of the pain was unknown, that scared me. All the worst case scenarios went through my head and I started wondering how much longer I had to live. Sting ray, sea snake, lion fish, stone fish – any of these could’ve have been the culprit and the results could be potentially fatal. I yelled out to my instructor who calmly told me that it was probably a jellyfish. Knowing what the source of my pain is, reduced my fear significantly. I got stung twice that day but kept paddling through it. I suppose it helped take my mind off the pain.
Heading back to the surf school, I came across some other students who’d also been stung. The instructors put shaving cream on my hand and scraped it off. The cream neutralises the poison and kills off any other stinger cells that might have stuck to your skin. Most jellyfish bites only leave you with a slight rash and a little pain. The pain subsided in a day and I was back on my board the next day. I was stung for a total of 5 days out of the 9 that I surfed. But I learned to fight through the pain and keep paddling.
Me vs jellyfish. Image source: Indianexpress.com
After my surf lessons had ended, I decided to take a board and go out to sea by myself. There was no one with me, no instructor and no other surfers in the water. I could see the vast blue waters and schools of fish jumping out of it. There were sea gulls swooping in catching the odd unlucky fish and I also saw a jellyfish floating by. I took a 10 minute break to sit still on my board and admire what was around me, and I realised that this was the happiest I’d been in a while. My solo surf trip had left me with welts on my skin, an extreme tan and a new found respect for nature.
A sea urchin
Pondicherry Surfing 101
1. Chennai is the closest airport to Pondicherry.
2. There are frequent non-AC buses from Chennai to Pondicherry.
3. Head to Serenity Beach for some great waves.
4. Carry shaving cream for those nasty jellyfish stings.
5. Don't surf alone. Make sure there are other surfers around you.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Karan Nair
Photographs by Karan Nair