SPORT The ban on entering the water in Vizag’s beaches has hit a small community of budding surfers, writes Jaideep Deo Bhanj
Vizag’s picturesque beaches attract many tourists and the promenade is a popular place to relax and unwind. However, the rough seas combined with a rocky coastline and a natural gradient make it an unsafe place to swim. After an increasing number of drowning incidents, the authorities have banned people from entering the water. They have also posted community lifeguards to enforce the ban.
This decision has had the worst impact on a small community of surfers in the city. Over the past few years a number of children have been learning to surf at Rushikonda Beach under the guidance of Melville Smythe. Almost 30 children have picked up the art of surfing and two of them have even made it to the India Surf Team of the Surfing Federation of India. With the beaches closed these surfers cannot practise what they have learnt. Melville, who has been a keen surfer, says that he knows Rushikonda Beach very well and has identified the places that are safe. “Most deaths due to drowning occur because tourists look for a secluded spot away from the safe zone. Vizag beach is dangerous but there are zones that are safe for surfing,” he says. Every beach in the world that is popular with tourists has a number of lifeguards patrolling the area. In India the RLSS(I) are trained to be lifeguards and can be deployed to protect the zones identified as safe for water activities, he adds.
Vizag is listed on the Internet as a place to surf, which attracts foreigners. A website that is popular among the surfing community, www.magicseaweed.com, gives surfers all the required information about the tide and the waves. The website gives detailed information about five surf spots in Vizag. Surfers pick up this information and come to the beach to try out the waves.
Also, surfing in India is now more organised. The Surfing Federation of India, the governing body, runs coaching camps and provides scholarships.
The India Surf Festival was conducted in February this year near Puri, Orissa. The organisers plan to host the festival again between January 25 and 27, next year. The festival hopes to promote a wholesome surf culture in the country. It advocates the freedom of expression and will also host cultural evenings. The festival is open for all those interested in the sport.
Organiser Sanjay Samantray says that its main aim is to educate the government and the people about surfing as a sport. It is not just a leisure activity but also a sport that requires skill and has well laid out rules. He says the government and the authorities need to educate themselves about surfing. It not only attracts tourists but can also keep beaches safe because surfers understand the currents, the tides and the ocean floor the best. “Surfers should be differentiated from other casual visitors to the beach and must be made to sign consent forms by the authorities before being let in. There are stringent rules that need to be followed. Putting a blanket ban on entering water is not the answer,” says Sanjay.
The government of Orissa has been very helpful in developing surfing in the State and has supported the surfing festival. The department of tourism in that State has educated its officials about the sport. Hopefully, the interest that the Orissa department has shown will encourage the authorities in Vizag to take a fresh look at this city as a surfing destination.
Learn to surf
For budding surfers in the city and those who want to pick up the sport, all hope is not lost. The Rangers Adventure Foundation near Konark in Orissa organises courses all year round, which teach the sport in a scientific manner ensuring the safety of the student. More information can be had by visiting www.indiasurffestival.com or by contacting Sanjay on +919437003284. But will Vizag see surfers on its waters?