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Dec 12, 2014

The Aloha Vibe in India: Surfing with Ishita Malaviya

South India has 7,000 km of relatively unexplored coastline.

WRITTEN BY

Madhuri Chowdhury

On the west coast of this line in a small fishing village, Ishita Malaviya and Tushar Pathiyan are changing the lives of the local community, while spreading the shaka spirit.

She had been dreaming of California, its beaches and a parched summer, never knowing that her paradise was just a train ride away from Bombay.

Several years later, Ishita is the country’s first and only Roxy girl, flying to Europe for photo shoots and gracing glossy magazine pages. But before there was a surf community and before the flashlights of fame, there was just a girl, a boy and a shared surfboard.

The Beginning of the Beginning

Ishita and Tushar made the move from Bombay to Manipal in pursuit of something other than big-city life. While at Manipal University, a chance encounter with a German exchange student led them to a place called the surf ashram, where people could stay and learn to surf. ‘Our first reaction was “no way!”’ says Ishita, ‘You grow up assuming that there are no waves because no one is doing it; I always wanted to learn how to surf, but I just assumed that one day I’d go to California.’

The surf ashram was expensive, and to make it affordable, the couple made a deal to bring along groups of university students to get a group-discount. They thought their friends would be equally excited at the prospect of surf and sand, but by the time the weekends arrived, their original groups of ten would dwindle down to around four, including her and Tushar. It didn’t work out, and the ashram suggested that they buy a board and surf with them whenever they liked. ‘At the time even a second hand board was expensive, around 10,000 rupees, so we sold pretty much everything we had,’ says Ishita.

 

Ishita_web_02
India’s surfing poster girl

When they eventually got a board, they shared it. When Tushar would be in the water, Ishita would stay on the beach applauding his effort. ‘I think it took us longer because we pretty much taught ourselves. It was a really special time -back then you could count the number of surfers on your fingertips.’

One board led to more — bought with money the couple made giving their friends surf lessons. By the time Quicksilver made its entry into India, Ishita and Tushar already had a surf school. The brand recognised their effort and gave them the push they needed to find a proper location, and the Shaka Surf Club was officially established.

Building a Community

Passion is powerful, and theirs has changed the lives of many, especially the local community. At first, when Ishita and Tushar would surf, the children from the fishing village where the Shaka Surf Club is based would stand on the beach and watch. They were scared of the ocean: a fear that’s been passed on like an heirloom. ‘Most of the fishermen at the village where we surf don’t know how to swim, and their kids don’t know how to swim, even though they live right on the beach,’ says Ishita. When she and Tushar asked the parents of their spectators if they could take them along one day, they were surprised the answer was yes. ‘We took these two kids out and within minutes the entire village was out on the beach – they couldn’t believe their kids were surfing.’ Initially, there were just two, but soon others joined. They now have something of a clubhouse, a place where the growing group can hang out and surf. The kids that used to look down upon themselves for living in a fishing village, who aspire to someday move to the big city, now also know how fortunate they are to live by the sea. ‘We wanted to show them what they have. Ever since they started surfing, it’s changed their outlook on life,’ says Ishita.

Ishita_web_04
Ishita manoeuvres a barrel

These kids now want to keep their beaches clean, and they know the basics of water safety; each one is a lifeguard on their own beach. In a country where there are approximately 60,000 drowning deaths a year, a step towards promoting love and respect for the ocean is just what is needed. The positive impact of surfing on this community can be seen if you happen to be a passer-by littering their beach. They’d tell you off. ‘There should always be that aloha vibe,’ says Ishita, ‘everyone supporting each other and growing together.’

Why are there no women in the water?

 Apart from her talent and drive, Ishita is known for being the first female professional surfer in India. In the 21st century, in a country of more than a billion people. When I expressed my incredulity, she laughed, ‘I know! That was my attitude too.’ She and Tushar travelled along the coastline a few years ago, searching for women surfers. The hunt proved what they hadn’t believed at first: that Ishita was really doing what no one else was at the time. She’ll say it was luck that let her spend her days by the water, and chance that changed her life. But you should know that Ishita got here though sheer determination.

‘When I started I was really weak, and I was the only girl in the water,’ she says, ‘The guys would paddle with such ease, they have natural upper body strength. I would get beat up and go black and blue. I could see myself being physically weaker and it took me a long time to reach that same level.’ Those were her personal battles and she fought them well, but Ishita also faced disapproving comments about her skin colour. She says, ‘People in India are not shy about things like that! Everyone, including my professors at college, would comment, “Oh, Ishita you look so dark, you look like you’re working in a charcoal factory,” or stuff like that.’ It’s strange when you think about the flipside, and how all the international female surfers Ishita meets compliment her on her bronzed skin.

Ishita_web_05
The Shaka Surf Club trains the youth

This could be one of the reasons that Indian girls aren’t surfing as much, despite the potential the country has for a beach culture (beyond just partying in Goa). A lot of people come to surf with Ishita now, and amongst them are girls who like the sport but don’t want their skin to naturally tan in the sun. ‘It’s just not considered beautiful,’ says Ishita. I still can’t get over the irony of a Roxy model being subjected to negative comments about her skin tone.

Despite her recent success, Ishita knows there is always room for growth, she strives to be better every day and teaches her students to never underestimate the power of the ocean. If you want to catch up with her now, you’ll probably find Ishita near the sea, trying to balance work-life and surfing, while plotting her next revolution.

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Adventure Travel

Jul 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

 

“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”

 

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

Subscribe here: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/in/subscribe/

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