Auroville surfers on the search
It's been summer time and though the Auroville beach seems relatively empty compared to tourist season, those who remain behind to face the heat, frequent the sands to relax and cool off in the rolling waters. Amongst those are the surfers. Some days there is only one waiting patiently on his board for a wave to ride. Other days, you can see many. “For a non surfer it must look kind of strange” expresses Sanjay who declares himself a relatively new surfer in Auroville, “just a bunch of guys sitting in the water, bobbing up and down, waiting.” But, for those who have a passion for this sport, the perspective is very different.
Sanjay has been in Auroville for over ten years but started surfing three years ago. “I started body surfing in Australia as a little kid. When there were decent sized waves, it was so good just to be in them, riding them as one with the water. But, here the waves aren't big enough for me to enjoy body surfing in the same way, so I started using a board so that I could stand up and get a ride. But, surfing in Repos and in Pondy has been going on since the beginning of Auroville. The first board arrived in the late 60's and is still here for us to use today.”
Boards are not easily available in India . Many of the boards that have been collected over the years come from ‘long time' surfers, who have carried them in from abroad and later passed them down to anxious learners. Another possibility is to get one from Sri Lanka where a regular ‘surfing scene' has existed for more than forty years. Occasionally, as Auroville draws many visitors, boards are left behind when people return to their respective countries. “Because of the difficulties of getting boards” explains Sanjay, “we are putting energy into our store room in Repos where we can repair the boards we have. Although we can't get board wax here, we can get fiberglass, cloth and resin for repairing. We can't find the correct foam here at this time, so getting boards made is not a possibility.”
But, getting the boards (wet suits are not mandatory in these warm waters), are just part of the technical side of surfing. What about the experiential side? “Physically I think it is excellent. For the climate we live in, I think it is the best form of exercise. What I found with different sports I have done in India, is that your body often over heats and your muscles start to burn but while you're surfing, you don't feel like that. It's much more soothing. Sometimes, when you jump into the water, you're just waiting for that first wave to break on your back because it is such a nice feeling.”
The history of surfing indicates a lot of travel in search for the ‘perfect wave'. Do the local surfers of Auroville go elsewhere with their boards? “Some go to Sri Lanka or places like the Andamans to catch better waves. We also have a plan of traveling around India . This is the spirit of surfing also – the search. To look for the wave, to find that wave, to find the point. It's like a focal point of energy. You can travel thousands of Kilometers to find that one point where everything comes together and you get that perfect wave. With the internet these days, you can go onto sites where there are swell predictions given by satellites. So, surfers can tap into that and get wave models so that they can more easily predict where the swells are going to happen. There are many different variables that have to coincide to create that wave. And of course in India , you have to look at monsoon times. But, we know our trip will happen. We just need to get a vehicle, the time and a few surfers who are ready for the adventure.”
And how does it feel when you are actually out there? “You're in this water element which is somehow alien for a lot of us,” said Sanjay. “It is very peaceful. You have this horizon with a whole different perspective on the world. You're in the ocean looking back at the land, at the people. It's calming…you have dolphins and fish swimming about…and the wave, when you catch that wave, it's something you…hard to explain…definitely a powerful experience. A form of energy flowing through a medium where you can actually feel it, experience it. Bands of energy transferring through the water and you can feel it and how it is connected with everything.”
To an onlooker it can seem a wonder sometimes how the local surfers can find much joy in the often seemingly small swells that rise and fall, sometimes not breaking at all. Can it be frustrating? “One of the things I find most special about surfing is that it is nothing you can buy, sell, possess…it is a gift basically. You cannot demand the waves to arrive. It is something that you have to continually respect in the elements. It has nothing to do with you. The sand, banks, the wind, the swell…it can get frustrating when it is not going as you would like but you continue to reconfirm that respect for nature. We have a lot of flat periods, but at the same time with those flat periods, when the waves finally do come, you appreciate them even more.”