From creating surfing champions out of fishing folk to eco programmes for kids, Bay Of Life ropes in the locals to make the best use of Kovalam’s glistening waters
Bay of Life has had an interesting journey so far. Just more than a year old, this surfing school, started by Showkath Jamal and Madhumathi Ravi, situated by the glistening waters of Kovalam, has already brought about a sea change. It has trained two national surfing champions, organised mass beach cleanups, worked with local fishermen and is looking at promoting education and conservation through the sport.
Showkath began working with the fishermen in and around Kovalam immediately after the tsunami. “After a while, they came and told me that fishing was not working for them. A lot of surfers had come to other areas and trained the fishermen there, but these guys were surfing with wooden planks and thermocol. They asked us if we could provide them with boards and train them. They had such raw talent that we decided we’d start the school to support them,” says Showkath.
So Bay of Life opened its doors and trained five promising stand-up paddlers and surfers from Kovalam. Two of them, Vignesh and Manikandan have been reigning champions at the annual India Surf Festival in Orissa. “The kids here are born and brought up around these waters and this sport comes to easily to them,” says Madhumathi. “When they are small, their fathers take them to the middle of the sea and drop them in the water. The children have to swim back to shore. Vignesh, one of the winners at the surf festival, is a school dropout who would go fishing with his father. It’s in their blood.”
Now, Bay of Life has become a way of life for its members. They even conduct workshops and are hoping more people will learn to lose their fear of the sea and help promote conservation. “Besant Nagar beach is ideal for stand-up paddling and has a good coastline.” But even their trainers think twice about surfing there because there’s so much garbage floating about and the water itself is murky. Says Madhumathi, “Even though Kovalam is away from the city, we find dead turtles along the shoreline. It’s very disheartening. We recently found out that the Pallikaranai marsh drains into Kovalam and perhaps that is the reason for this. If more people adopted this sport or even tried it, they would see what they are doing to the sea.”
Lessons through surfing
Showkath and Madhumathi also believe the sport is eco-friendly. “You power the board. It doesn’t need any mechanism,” says Showkath, “Even the wax we use on it is organic. And once you start paddling, you’ll be introduced to the vast eco-system that is right in your backyard. There are mangroves, schools of dolphins; we’ve even spotted a whale shark once.”
And so, the school also began Campus Kovalam. “It’s an experiential programme where the school students visit the beach, learn about the environment and relate what they see to what they’ve learnt,” says Madhumathi, while Showkath adds, “They have seen high tides and piles of shells before they are taken to limestone factories (thereby learning about exoskeletons and the presence of calcium in shells). We’re also looking at different life-science and geo-science lessons that we could possibly create out of the beach. The programme has been successful also because of the strong influence of the local communities here — We need to learn a lot from them.”