For the last three weeks, Herr Willie has regaled us with fascinating tales of his Russian adventure. Today, he shares with us yet another great story from one of his travels: meeting the beautiful and influential Ishita Malaviya, the first female surfer of India.
Places don’t mean anything without the people who bring them to life. Through my job, I am privileged to meet outstanding characters on my travels. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to meet Ishita Malaviya, who is the first female surfer of India. Hard to believe, but she is influential and beautiful. And she is the biggest possible anomaly. In a country where people fear the open sea as much as Dracula fears smoked garlic, Ishita throws herself onto the waves of the ocean like there is no tomorrow.
India is an incredible country. Colorful, wild, and mysterious. One of the curiosities of the subcontinent is that Indians are generally afraid of the open sea. Historically, it has always been connected with death through drowning rather than with the joys of effortless floating or recreational sports. Quite possibly, people just have been too busy working and caring about their families than enjoying the seaside.
On the opposite, surfing means freedom. To be one with nature, to ride the flow of mighty waves. It’s no surprise that the hottest surf spots are at hippie-esque destinations such as California and Hawaii. India is not really a country where individual freedom is of high priority. There are plenty of societal rules, especially for women. For them, life is sometimes a cascade of regulations and traditions. It’s quite a discrepancy. In Hinduism you can choose your favorite god from literally hundreds of mythological super heroes, you can wear one of millions of colorful saris. But eventually, these things remain your biggest individual choices as a woman.
But there is one girl who is just taking that freedom because to surf means to be fearless. The charismatic, 24-year old Ishita Malaviya is changing the game forever. Maybe not only for surfing in India, but for society at large.
Everything started in 2007 when she was on a trip to Kerala. There she witnessed Swamis, surfing monks, from an ashram in Goa. She was instantly fascinated by the elegance and power of wave riding, and didn’t let go. She got in touch with the Swamis and begged them to teach her the ABCs of surfing. Within weeks she became the lady of the board. Originally based in Mumbai with a degree in journalism, she moved down to study in Manipal, Karnataka. Because surfing became her prime passion in life, she opened the Shaka Surf Club, the first surfing school run by Indians. She is now a face for Roxy India and takes part in international competitions. It’s her spirit and her desire to be one with the elements that made her quite known in the surfing world.
To spice this story up a little, we have to state that this is a love story. Ishita’s boyfriend, Tushar, plays a vital role in this surfing fairy tale. Falling in love with the sweet 24-year old, Tushar has been with Ishita from her first waves until now. Probably he was her foundation in a patriarchal society. Together, they opened the surfing school. If Ishita is the face and heart of the shaka surf club, Tushar could be the brain and stomach. And there is Marley, the surfing dog. One day he just came to the beach and followed Tushar, and now he is part of the gang. He has quite a talent for posing on film, too.
The Shaka Surf Club is based in Kodi Begre, a calm peninsula close to Manipal, in Karnataka. The best way to get there is to take a plane to Mangalore and then you can grab a taxi for moderate fares straight to Kodi Begre. You should check first with Ishita and Tushar on when the best season is to come. When I came in winter, it was rather low season with fewer waves but still it’s a magical place. The guests stay mostly in tents in the surf school and life adjusts around daylight.
For Ishita, it’s important that the community is profiting socially and economically from her venture. The women of the village provide the food, and the local kids will not only get in touch with international surfers and learn English, but they actually are learning surfing. When I was there, we brainstormed about a program to acquire a few more boards for all the local kids. Something like “adopt a board.” I think this could be quite cool. Ishita really wants to make surfing popular in the region. And more than that, she wants to empower girls to strive for whatever they want to achieve, and surfing is just one element of that. And already a few girls took their first steps on the board. It’s a great start. And even if the number of surfers in India is still low as a couple of hundred, the is scene developing. The exposure of Ishita is only helping the cause.
To conclude: So, how do we really know that Ishita is the first ever female surfer of India? Well, it’s basically the most archaic kind of statistics. Ever since they started surfing, Tushar and Ishita have gone to all possible surf spots in India. And everywhere the gazes and reactions of their fellow surfers were alike: “You are probably the first surfing lady who came across this shore – yeah, you must be the number one.”
So that’s that, folks. Her story has been inspiring some outstanding surfers, and last year there was a surfing documentary produced that starring Ishita and Tushar as main heroes: “Beyond the Surface”!
Ah, and by the way. Ishita is into analog photography, too, and quite aware of Lomography. I left her a handful of films to indulge into the world of film just a little more. If you visit her in Kodi Begre, you might even see her pointing an old analog camera at you.
Check out the documentarty featuring Ishita and Tushar here.
Please visit their Shaka Surf Club here.