I have been renting out surfboards and boogie boards on Lighthouse beach at Kovalam for the past seven years now. Earlier, I used to be a daily wages labourer, working in and around my home in Kattakada. Because of my poor eyesight I was forced to give that up. Renting the boards is just about the only job I can do nowadays. In fact, most of those who rent out surfboards, sun beds, umbrellas and the likes on the beach are people with health issues or physical disabilities. This job is quite stress free, even though you have to stand in the sun from early morning till dusk in the hope of getting a customer. To rent out the boards, though, one has to take a yearly license from the Port Authority and licenses are issued to only one ration card holder per family.
I bought the surf boards from a few foreigners several years ago for a nominal amount. Either they felt that the boards were too old to take back or they couldn’t afford to ship them home. Surfing as a sport has picked up in Kovalam, especially during the past couple of years. But it’s not an ideal destination for surfing, unlike Varkala. The waves are not as high. Nonetheless, it is a bit of a dangerous sport and I make sure that I rent it out only to people who know surfing – you can, more or less, guess by their demeanour when they come to rent the boards. More than surf boards, though, it’s actually boogie boards or body boards that are more popular with tourists. They can be ridden prone, standing up or on the knees and doesn’t require as much skill as surfing. It’s sort of a plaything that the tourists use to jump the waves.
I charge by the hour for the boards, the price is negotiable depending on how much time the customer wants to use it. The customers themselves taught me to wax the surfboards and keep them in mint condition. On that note, a couple of them are getting old, I must buy new ones. It is during the tourist season in Kovalam, which is between November and May, that I get the most business. All of us traders are happy when the English come. They and the Americans are among the biggest spenders on incidentals like this.
During the season, some days I can earn upwards of Rs. 1,000 a day and some days absolutely nothing. The rest of the year, my family, which comprises my wife and two small kids, live off this money. It is a struggle more so now that I hear rumours that my livelihood is under threat. The authorities say that from next season onwards they will be issuing fresh licenses only to those below poverty line families living in coastal areas. I don’t know what I will do then…
(A weekly column on the men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)