On a crescent moon beach, just metres from the shoreline, fishermen were making repairs, their nets spread out across a handy skateboard ramp. Behind them was a Hindu temple, surrounded by colourful guesthouses, souvenir shops and restaurants. I had dodged the laundry lines crisscrossing the alleyways of Fisherman’s Colony in the Indian town of Mahabalipuram to make it to the sea, in search of the waves I’d heard about – and wanted to surf.
Mahabalipuram (or Mamallapuram but known locally as Mahabs), is an old port on the south-east coast of the country in the state of Tamil Nadu, just over 50km south of Chennai. Until recently, the only visitors to this sleepy spot were pilgrims and tourists visiting the Unesco-listed temples and monuments that date back to the 7th century. Now, however, it’s becoming a surfing hotspot.
Mumu surf school provides boards to young local surfers who help with beach clean-ups
Since international surfers discovered it, around a decade ago, locals have started to surf, too, many of them taught by Mukesh Panjanathan. Now 32, Mumu, as he’s known, was born into a fishing family but taught himself to surf in 2007 by borrowing boards from foreign surfers. Over the years he started to offer local kids free surf lessons, in return for their help cleaning up the beach, and then formalised his teaching skills by training as a Level 1 instructor with the Surfing Federation of India. Now he runs his own surf school (mumusurfindia.com), where he has around 30 surfboards for rent (from 250 rupees, around £2.80) and offers private and group lessons (from £10) with his team of four local instructors.
Men carry a devotional chariot through the streets en route to the beach
I looked out at the water and saw waves build and break against the government-constructed breakwater, built to prevent erosion and to protect the Shore Temple, a cluster of three granite temples behind it. As well as young Indian surfers there were half a dozen others – from France, Australia and Japan – paddling towards the two-metre waves. Further down the beach a group of South Korean beginners were having lessons.
I surfed for the rest of the morning until I noticed I’d damaged my board and walked over to Sandy Bottom Cafe, adjoining Mumu’s school, where I met Rahul, a 26-year-old surfer known for his backhand barrel riding skills. Shortly after my visit Rahul was crowned champion for his age category in the Covelong Point 2017 Surf Competition held at a beach 20 minutes up the coast. A former student turned instructor at Mumu’s, Rahul also repairs boards from the balcony of his family house, a skill he learned at a shop set up by an Australian surfer that has since closed down.
Bengaluru-based skateboard collective Holy Stoked built a skate park on the town beach
I was staying a stone’s throw from the beach at Squirrel Nest, a new two-storey guesthouse in Fisherman’s Colony (doubles from £9, room-only) run by Madhuven, a lifelong fisherman. The guesthouse also hosts a surf club, the Sea Sharks, formed by a group of Mahab’s young surfers and led by 16-year old Nithish, who has been riding the waves for six years. When I visited he was training for the Covelong contest. Nithish is also a skateboarder. Mahabs is one of the few coastal towns in India with a skate park, built in 2015 by Bengaluru-based skate collective Holy Stoked who have gone on to build skate parks throughout India.
Other places to stay and eat have sprung up to house and feed the growing number of surfers. Up the street from Squirrel Nest, Blue Moon Guesthouse has rooms with balconies and a peaceful rooftop terrace (doubles from £20 B&B). There is a profusion of restaurants serving traditional south Indian dishes, Hotel Guru (small restaurants in India are called Hotels), being a favourite, while places such as Burger Shack (on East Raja Street) cater to more western tastes.
Sanjay, a member of the local surf club, Sea Sharks, came second in the under-16 category of the 2017 Covelong Point surf competition
With consistent waves at one end of the beach offering enough of a challenge for more adept surfers and a calm area suitable for learners at the other, Mahabs has something for everyone. Surfing is growing in India, with established communities along the west coast states of Goa, Karnataka and Kerala, as well as the east coast states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, but Mahabalipuram is arguably its crown jewel.
(This story has not been created/edited by Unicaus and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)