Catching the waves at Manapad

GETTING OVER THE BLUES From kite boarding to stand-up paddling, the sea shore morphed into a buzzing hub for watersports PHOTOS: A. SHRIKUMAR  

At eight in the morning, the sea at Manapad is still rumbling lazily. The waves have receded, revealing the moss-laden surface beneath the frothy waters. Flocks of egrets and ibises idle by the shore. The small fishing hamlet wears a festive look, with colourful flags fluttering in the wind, barricades lining the beach and a makeshift stage set on the sand dune overlooking the sea. Soon, a group of shirtless men in board shorts carry the kayaks and arrange them in a neat row. An orange flag reading ‘Manapad Classic’ is planted in the sand, and a whistle goes off, sending the birds away. In no time, the scenic beach is filled with men, women and children, cheering for the dozen participants.

As if to welcome them into its fold, the sea suddenly wakes up, roars back, and the waves dash against the shore ferociously. The men take off. Dragging the kayaks and clutching the paddles, they scuttle towards the waters, leaving behind trails on the wet sand. In the next few minutes, the kayaks appear like mini creatures in the midst of all that blue, the bright red paddles swinging like fish fins on either side. With a stop-watch in hand, the judges wait to declare the winners.

Meanwhile, veteran surfers Jehan Driver and Arun Vasu discuss the wind and wave conditions. “The wind needs to be stronger for us to surf,” says Arun, sponsor of Covelong Point Social Surf School. “Let’s take a trial,” he grabs a surfing board, fits the sail, clambers on, and rides a couple of waves. Emerging, he decides the wind is just right and marks the boundaries and directions for the race.

The buoys are anchored, and four men wind-surf a distance of four kilometres – two upwind and two downwind. “It’s not as easy to reach the shore, as the wind direction is perpendicular to the course of the race,” Arun explains.

“This is the first time we are introducing wind surfing in Manapad, and it’s turning out to be a great place for a variety of water sports,” says Jehan, who left a lucrative job in Mumbai to take up surfing full-time. He teaches the sport to fishermen and tourists through his surf school in Rameswaram, and goes on kayaking expeditions.

After a successful launch last year, Manapad Classic is an event that brings together self-taught and trainee surfers, fishermen, local youth, foreign tourists and anyone who has a passion for the sea.

It all started when Arun Miranda, a Chennai-based businessman, visited his ancestral village of Manapad on the insistence of his parents. “I was taken aback by the serenity of the beach here, and invited a few surfer-friends from Chennai to try out the waters. Soon, it became a festival. Manapad is unique, as it has a point break, where the waves are big and rough, and lagoons, where the waves are small and calm,” he says.

Through Manapad Surf Resort, Arun Miranda gets surfers from Covelong Point Social Surf School to teach the local fishermen the art of surfing. “The way surfers and the fishermen see the sea is different. It’s an inexplicable feeling to ride a wave — more like a short-term conquest of the unconquerable sea,” says Murthy Meghavan, a regular at all major surfing festivals in the country and India’s first fisherman to become a professional surfer.

“Experiences with the sea are unique and personal. For me, it’s more like being inside a washing machine. You get churned and stirred like a dirty piece of cloth and emerge out cleansed — a free mind and a flying soul,” says V. Vignesh from Kovalam.

Announcements blare through the mikes, and the kite boarding, stand-up paddle and sailing events start. Ten children from the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association and eight stand-up paddle surfers enter the sea in style, reach its very belly, fade out against the horizon, and resurface as winners after conquering the waves.

On the shore, Arjun Motha, a kite boarder from Tuticorin, lets the kite flap, checks the wind, and glides on the glinting waters effortlessly. “Manoeuvring techniques are important in kite boarding, else you may get carried away,” he says.

Soon after, three crescents of kites soar above the sea, adding a hint of colour to the Manapad sky.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 12:57:09 PM |

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