“Well, these are the conditions that we’ve been given,” Ed said with a hint of frustration. It was basically flat. The few waist-high waves that appeared woudn’t hold, jacking and collapsing so suddenly that they were barely rideable. I had scraped my chin earlier in the sandbank and James’ side was grated raw. I saw Helen frightfully bail out just before taking off. In the late morning sun, a silhouette of Taresh navigating a four-second lefthander on his nine-foot log was all the stoke I encountered that morning. Little did I know, it would be the only stoke I would get for the whole week.
“You can surf in India?” was the more cynical reply I got when I disclosed my plans to an Indian native I had met at my niece’s playschool back in Kuala Lumpur. It’s a little known fact, (for those who have not watched Castles In The Sky or Googled: “Surf India”). There is surf here.
“It’s not hard to come up in searches when you’re in a place where there isn’t a big surf scene,” explained Ed, the man behind “Surf” in the India-based company Soul and Surf. “Soul” is driven by his girlfriend, Sofie, who teaches yoga at sunset on the rooftop.
Situated close to the southern-most tip of India, Varkala has all the makings of an epic surf experience – beautiful unspoiled beaches face the Arabian Sea, dramatic red cliffs that resemble fortresses from afar, rows and rows of swaying coconut trees diffuse the clear, tropical sunshine, and, best of all, there’s nobody but you out in the ocean – save for a few fishermen hauling in last night’s catch. It’s surfing Nirvana.
Only this wave – this wave that, according to The Surfer’s Path is “so round and fast” that catching one could make you “one with the universe,” was nowhere to be seen. Hiding in God’s arms, maybe, not quite willing to reveal itself. “It’s strange when you start to feel responsible for the surf,” Ed said on our way to check a different break, a few minutes’ drive north. Early-rising Keralites in their dothis stare at us and point curiously at the rattling vehicle with plastic boats piled on top of it. I grew rather fond of our vehicle, which we dubbed “Jason.” The Ambassador had its ceiling covered in a sour looking carpet-like fabric, and a tiny glass chandelier hung from its center. It was like being barrelled in a bad ‘70s disco. But as James pointed out, “Mate, there’s no such thing as a bad ’70s disco.”
We stood on rocks, because the beach had disappeared completely from the high tide. Ed bit his lower lip, squinting in the sunlight, “People come here to surf, and when there’s no surf, well, you can’t help feeling a little responsible.”
The sun is setting on the fourth day with another unsuccessful morning at catching waves. Our bodies are battered, but our spirits remain unbroken – hopeful, optimistic. “Inhaaaaale and exhaaaaaale,” Sofie chants rhythmically with a voice so hypnotic that you’re entranced into meditation. It almost feels like surfing, where nothing else exists but you.
“Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.”
Up on the roof, it’s easy. There’s nothing but the birds, the breeze ,and the chime of temple bells in the distance as the searing South Indian heat rapidly cools down. After seven sets of sun salutations, the cobra, spinal twist, head-stand, tree pose, fish pose, shoulder-stands, leg raises, the bridge, child’s and corpse, we are centered as the dark shade of night tints the red and orange of the sky.