(Last Updated On: August 30, 2016)

The stage throbs with music as G. Renuka and V. Vijaya look on, their hands full of certificates. Their sons have won prizes at the surfing competition held as part of the Covelong Point Classic Surf, Music, and Yoga Festival. This is the concluding day, and the women have come just to see their sons receive the prizes. “Rahul started surfing when he was 13. He’s in college now,” says Renuka. “But, he hardly goes there; surfing is all he does.”

Just then, Rahul, clad in shorts, jogs towards us. The story of the lanky teenager with curly, sun-bleached hair is typical of a Kovalam surfer — he started surfing like the rest of the village boys, got trained by surfer Murthy, and is winning accolades. “I’m going to Bali next month to take part in a competition,” he says proudly, as his fisherman-father looks on.

Kovalam has produced some excellent surfers, and the festival, which is in its fourth year, was initially aimed at promoting surfing culture and fisherman-surfer Murthy’s surf school. Today, “it’s become much bigger than we imagined”, says 47-year-old Yotam Agam of EarthSync, who started it with Arun Vasu of TT Group, and Murthy.

The three-day event, held over the weekend, was hosted by Covelong Point Social Surf School and presented by TT Group and EarthSync in association with the Surfing Federation of India. The festival transformed the quaint fishing village beyond recognition — the sound of the waves was swallowed by the sound of music, laughter, and conversation. The villagers play wonderful hosts; there are part of it all — they run a few food stalls (Yasmin, a local, had a stall for fried fish), sit with their families munching fries and corn at the beach, or simply stroll with the visitors, a little amused, but mostly proud that their village is being celebrated thus.

The atmosphere is that of a carnival — there’s a lot to eat and drink; the waves are ready to be plunged into; but, most importantly, there’s some excellent music. It’s almost 5 p.m. and Chennai-based band Staccato performs electronic interpretations of Carnatic songs. It’s perfect for that time of the day — the mood is mellow, it’s a relaxed Sunday evening and people sip on their drinks and watch the waves as lead singer Gowtham’s voice fills the air. The band brings its performance to a close with a couple of folk interpretations. The last song, an ode to the farmer, resonates for long.

The slackline, an arrangement of an elastic rope suspended between two poles (there was a slackline championship earlier in the day), seems to attract a lot of attention from the little boys in the neighbourhood. S. Yousuf, S. Ibrahim, M. Wasim and J. Vajir Ahamed keep walking over it, amused by the way the rope bounces up and down. They’re all under 10 years and are trying their hand at surfing. “The other boys will make fun of us if we don’t surf,” says Vajir, glancing at his friends. “If not the bigger boards, we surf using the smaller boogie boards.”

 Surfing has changed lives and altered careers. Fisherman Murthy was a catalyst in the village’s surfing movement. “This year is special, because I found acceptance from all, even those indifferent to it all these years,” he grins.

The wave story

What draws surfers from across the globe to Kovalam? Says Yotam Agam, who also surfs: “The Tamil Nadu coast gets waves that are leftovers from the swells of the Indian Ocean from Sri Lanka. Kovalam can be described as ‘point break’; the waves break when they hit the rock formations here, creating swells that turn. Also, Kovalam has a sand break unlike in Sri Lanka, that has a reef break. This makes it easy for beginners — they will not get hurt if they fall. The waves here may not be the best in the world based on size, but support long rides. You can catch a wave here and ride and ride.”

The surf game

Murthy on the surfing competition: “About 150 surfers from places such as Mamallapuram, Puducherry, Goa, Mangalore and Mumbai took part. The heats were held in groups of five. They had 20 minutes during which they had to ride 10 waves. Those who did it most gracefully won.” This year too, the Kovalam boys won hands down.

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