Sand and Tanned on the Surf Turf.
“Summer is coming”, said no one ever.
In the last few bearable weeks that could be spent outdoors, Sarah and I greedily seized the opportunity to join a surfing trip to Udupi, Karnataka. Latching onto a half-assed invite, we were the odd balls in an engineer’s-only group. An overnight train ride and several rounds of cards later, we arrived at Udupi - the Miami of the south.
The village of Thonse has quaint, narrow lanes lined on both sides by houses no smaller than mansions. Life here is languid. Time stands still. Our holiday in this tranquil place included camping outdoors, meals, massages, surfing and yoga lessons. Let’s get one thing straight, our `health centre’ was a hospital for the nearly-but-not-really healthy. It served nutritious meals prescribed by a dietician and scheduled to the T, low decibels through the day, lights out and gates shut by 10pm. Catch-22 was that it had a beautiful property, with a panoramic view of a river bound by clusters of coconut palms, and ACs. I’m from Mumbai. One of the few times we experience winter is when the airconditioner is at 24 degrees C. So yes, this vacay had us tip-toeing about; a group of carnivorous youngsters with more bustle in our breaths than an enclosed space could handle.
The view from a room
Everyone from surfers, yogis, slack liners to locals, lost travellers and stray animals find a home and a family here. Together they can be seen in splits on yoga mats and jokes, laying out the table or washing plates and riding waves or bathing their boards. Campers are housed in sand-pitched tents and sway in leisure on colourful hammocks. These suspended cradles and a slack-line are firmly perched between tall, bendy coconut trees. A yellow kayak laps gently at the riverside while a green jungle gym is secured on the rocky seashore. A makeshift mini skate-park cum open-air yoga space completes the campsite.
The surfing gang
The first day was the only one on which we walked to the beach. Thereafter, we couldn’t be asked anymore and hitched rides in goods carriers, buses or tuk-tuks to and from the surf school.
Our first lesson was theory and on-ground practical stuff. Soon we were popping up on the disfigured boards that we etched into the sand. Unaware that it was only on land where we would perform the technique correctly, we waited impatiently to dash into the water. Fastening our leashes like we weren’t going to let go of the dogs that our boards were, we entered the sea.
The lessons involved:
1. Learning to identify a wave at the far horizon.
2. Paddling towards its peak.
3. And in our instructor's words, “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle! JUUUUMP!”
First lesson discussion
In movies and ‘epic surfing’ videos, we learned that waves are ridden diagonally or horizontally, from their peak up to the point where they break into foam. And that’s precisely what we saw the experts manoeuvre. However, as beginners we were taught to paddle towards the peak of the breaking wave and take it perpendicularly to the coastline. If luck permits, even ride it in the foam up to the shore.
The lessons helped us get our basics clear - on and off shore. Staring out into infinity we could soon gauge the areas where the water surface rose and softened. We learned that like mean girls, the swell often comes in groups of three. So we need not lose hope if we failed the first time because the next can still be the one. Conversely, if we’re rejected and thrown off on the first attempt, oh boy, the other two are going to turn us down.
One evening, using our unsupervised, extra surf sessions, we hit the shore running. As luck would have it, this was the day when there was a strong current moving southwards. Grabbing onto the 6 ft long foam boards, we dumped our slippers and t-shirts in the sand right across the surf school. An hour later, we got out of the water puzzled at how we had ended up more than a kilometre away from our starting point.
Takeaway: Most battles are fought away from your home turf.
The powerful force of the current harnessed at our waists was equivalent to a heavy workout with hundred resistance bands pulling diagonally as we tried to beat it forward. We managed to advance only a few metres inwards where the water reached waist high. There are specific regions in the surface of the ocean, where the waves form massive crests. These areas lie directly above depressions in the sea bed. Often enough we walked into them, which led to an immediate neck-deep immersion. It was amusing to watch each other descend into such pits, but not so funny when we were left with no choice but to leap over the waves that hit us head-on like aggressive bulls.
Takeaway: You can’t emerge to the highest high, without stepping into the lowest low.
Surfing that evening can be described in one word - disastrous. There was no surfing. If I recall correctly, none of us even got the opportunity to get onto our boards. The whole scene can be picturised as an attempt to walk against an oncoming truck. The only difference was that we didn’t get crushed, we got flung off. The long board capsized, jarring into someone else’s thigh.
The next evening, the opportunist inside urged us to go back to the beach, capitalizing on our 'unlimited' surf sessions. Why did we want to get beaten up by the waves again?
Takeaway: There are no takeaways since there are no free lunches.
The body-surfing progressed to knee-surfing and even sitting-surfing. In the midst of the turnovers, bumps and topples we got back up and in. Over the four day trip, our performance went from haphazard and unpoised to fair and mediocre. The panic in our endeavours to paddle and pop-up gradually wore off, morphing into a fixed pattern, a routine drill. Hard falls were taken lightly, and we continued to hit and miss, hit and miss, hit and miss.
And soon we rose as often as we fell and jumped up as often as we plunged down. We stopped fighting the ferocity, instead we let it engulf us. Learning to let go of the anxiety, we gave in and relaxed on our way down under. As the waves stormed into us, we enjoyed the somersault, the summer and the salt.
Takeaway: Lose the battle, win the war.
Side-note: Watching us from the shore, our instructor said we could easily be mistaken for a dolphin-sighting on our long boards. Turns out, he meant not as graceful. Just as fleetingly spotted above the surface of the water.
Enjoying the somersault, summer and the salt
1. Fly to Mangalore and drive down to Bengre, or take a train directly to Udupi in Karnataka.
2. Post-surfing, yoga sessions are to die for.
3.For those who are reasonably fit, you’ll be up on your board in one session.
4.Four / five sessions are most suitable to get an idea and develop an interest in surfing.
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 Nidah Kaiser
Photographs by: Sarah Vora and Arundhati Karanth.