Empty line-ups, warm water, plentiful waves, turquoise waters and long sandy beaches. Sound like the ideal surf trip? It did to me. I learnt about surfing in India a couple years ago from a surf video featuring Ishita Malaviya, known as “India’s first professional female surfer.” The peeling waves looked super fun and perfect for my longboarding love – surfing in India became one of those little subconscious goals that sits at the back of your brain until the right time comes.
After I committed to doing my yoga teacher training in India, I simultaneously investigated surfing in India. Compared to other surf destinations around the world the info on India was minimal, which understandable considering that the Indian surf scene is only about a decade old. I knew I wanted to stay in a “surf camp/retreat” style atmosphere to spend lots of time in the water, take advantage of local knowledge, and not have to bring my own surfboard. In the “retreat” category I found: Soul & Surf in Varkala, Kerala, and the Surf Ashram in Mulki, Karnataka. And in the “camp” category there is Camp Namaloha. I decided to stay at the Surfing Ashram for the gentler waves and authentic feel at the roots of Indian surfing.
To reach Mulki I took a 13 hour train from Varkala to Mangalore. I originally booked a flight for this journey because I couldn’t figure out the trains back home in Canada. However, as soon as I arrived in Varkala I discovered there’s a direct train to Mangalore – exactly where I needed to go (things have a mysterious way of presenting themselves here)! I spent a relaxing day gazing out the window from my seat in the AC Chair Car (cost was around 700 Rs or 14 CAD for a ticket), watching the peaceful backwaters and countryside unfurl before me, and helping to entertain a very excitable young boy. I spent one night in Mangalore, taking the local passenger train to Mulki the next day.
I arrived at the Surf Ashram just in time to catch the sunset and settle in. Their house is set on a quiet road a few minutes away from the small town of Mulki. Bordered by palm trees and looking over calm backwaters, you can hear waves breaking in the distance. It was nice to see a couple local girls going out for a standup paddle in the evening. I met most of the ashram surfer dudes over a tasty home cooked dinner along with four other guests staying there.
The next morning I was awake at 7:00am to get out to the waves. Being Sunday, a pretty big crew of us gathered: the ashram guys, a few locals, another guest and myself. Everyone was super friendly and welcoming. We reached the beach after a short boat ride over the backwater, greeted by small, peeling waves. Not so nice were the piles of rubbish across the beach. Before surfing we did a quick beach clean up. The guys try to clean the beach every weekend, but there’s always more debris coming in because the local community drops their rubbish into the river, which washes back onshore.
Treatment of waste is so different in India – it’s common practice to dump or burn your garbage in the street because there’s a lack of infrastructure for waste disposal. I drop my waste in the street sometimes too because garbage bins aren’t freely available. Part of the issue is a cultural attitude towards waste – just throw something to the side if you don’t need it – which is a problem now because of the large amounts of plastic and inorganic materials in our waste. It’s awesome that the Surf Ashram crew are creating awareness by doing these weekly beach clean ups and getting the local kids involved too. It brought me straight back to my Surfrider days cleaning up the beaches of Vancouver Island!
After being warned to watch for jellyfish in the water, I splashed into the Arabian Sea eager to catch my first Indian waves. Although the waves were weak and a bit tricky to catch, I had a blast being in the water. We had the beach to ourselves! There were hoots and a fist pumps galore – the positive energy was contagious. I left the beach stoked, happy, and super hungry.
As soon as we got back to the ashram a deluxe breakfast/brunch was served of veg curry, poori bhaji (a fried bread), fresh fruit and juice. One or two of the ashram members cooks each meal, and I have to say they do a good job. I even cooked with them one evening to discover some of their secrets. They admitted they don’t cook in a fully traditional style like their mothers would, but they still know the right spices and flavours for each dish. Similar to the Sivananda Ashram, only two meals per day are served with fruit to snack on in between.
After a long surf in the morning and a big breakfast it’s tempting to have a nap in the afternoon, which I indulged in a couple times. I also walked into Mulki twice to try to sort out train tickets. It was kind of cool to be the only foreigner in the small town. I enjoyed going into random eateries and cruising around freely with no shopkeepers constantly pestering me. There isn’t much to do in Mulki, but it’s nice for an afternoon wander. You can also catch a bus from Mulki to Mangalore if you want some more action and to eat some fish and ice cream (separately of course). However I was content to enjoy the quiet life at the ashram.
Before sunset one of the guys usually organizes a stand up paddle or kayak outing on the backwater. It’s a beautiful time of day as the temperature cools and there’s a light breeze. We checked out a little chunk of mangrove forest and a fishing village. It’s really spectacular! When you return to the ashram dinner is usually a short wait away, involving yet another interesting creation from one of the guys.
The four days I spent at the Surf Ashram carried on like this: surf, breakfast, down time, stand up paddle, dinner, chill, and sleep. I left a couple days earlier than I planned because I turned out to be the only guest they booked in after the other two guests left. I spent two days as their only guest and found it a bit weird. Just a small thing, but if anyone reading this is thinking about going to the Surf Ashram I would just make sure there are other guests there when you stay.
During my stay I asked how the guys incorporate the ashram/spiritual life into their day. From the outside it can look like they’re living every surfer’s dream life: surf, eat, sleep, and repeat. But there’s a bit more to it for these guys. Their guru is Jack Hebner, aka “The Surfing Swami.” Originally from the United States, Jack is credited for bringing surfing to India. Most of the guys I met were mentored by Swami (as they affectionately call him) in their early years and are considered to be the first generation of Indian surfers. Now they are teaching local kids to surf in Mulki and Mangalore!
The ashram members are also devotees of the Hindu god Sri Krishna. Puja rituals are performed in the morning and evening and guests can choose if they want to be involved or not. A lot of care is taken to put positive energy into the food as well, which is why the ashram members don’t hire someone else to do the cooking. And of course there is work in maintaining the ashram and managing guest affairs.
I really enjoyed my peaceful stay at the Surf Ashram. It’s an awesome place to escape from the chaos in India. The waves are well suited to new surfers and longboarders, but more advanced surfers might not be too keen. I was told that the swells pick-up before and after the monsoon rains, sometime from April-June and September-October. The ashram guys are very helpful and friendly, and they love meeting people from all over the world. Let me know if you have any questions about surfing in India. I’d be happy to try to help.
India Surf Vids
A Rising Tide – About the origins of surfing in India.
Beyond the Surface – The video about Ishita Malaviya that got me hooked on surfing in India.