The young man and the sea

Fisherman and surfing trainer Selvam who, along with his friend Kumaran, set a Limca Record for stand-up paddling, talks to Akila Kannadasan about their journey into the blue.

Updated - June 17, 2015 01:11 pm IST

Published - June 15, 2015 07:07 pm IST

Selvam, along with Kumaran of Bay of Life Surf School, Kovalam, set a Limca Record for stand up paddling 7 km in the Bay of Bengal. Photo: R. Ravindran

Selvam, along with Kumaran of Bay of Life Surf School, Kovalam, set a Limca Record for stand up paddling 7 km in the Bay of Bengal. Photo: R. Ravindran

“He won’t come ashore until he catches a big wave,” chuckles Rajesh. A surfer at the Bay of Life Surf School in Kovalam, he knows the ways of his trainer R. Selvam, who locked horns with a boisterous wave 20 minutes ago, with his paddle board for a photoshoot, and just wouldn’t come out of the water. One moment he rides the foamy crest of a trembling wave, and the next, he plunges into the sea as it crumbles — even from the distance, one can see the gleam in his eyes.

Born and raised in the fishing village, Selvam is from the fisherfolk community. He is one of the first from the community to have entered the Limca Book of Records. Selvam, along with M. Kumaran, set a Limca Record earlier this year for stand-up paddling (SUP) seven kilometres in 90 minutes into the sea — they are said to be the first in the world to have attempted such a feat in the Bay of Bengal.

Selvam is like a fish when at sea: his wiry body glides effortlessly in the water as though its very purpose is just that. And Selvam feels the same way — that he was born by the sea to savour every inch of it. The 36-year-old holds a diploma in mechanical engineering and masters in public administration. But the land held no pleasure for him. The lure of the sea was so strong that he found ways to return to his village after his education. He trained at the National Institute of Water Sports in Goa and is now a lifeguard at Taj Fisherman’s Cove and a part-time trainer.

Selvam talks of lateral current, onshore wind, the effect of the moon’s position on the tide and traces patterns on the sand to explain the ways of the sea… he’s a fisherman after all, one would think. He’s bound to know these things. But what sets him apart is his style — he breaks up the science of the sea into nothing more than a game played by the wind and gravity.

He wants people to understand the sea. “It’s the most beautiful thing on earth. But our culture and the way we were brought up has rendered us fearful of it,” he says. “It’s a playground. I wish more people come and play in it,” he smiles. “If people know a few basic things about the direction of the current and are able to read the tide, they will understand that the sea is not dangerous.”

In fact, the record proved just that. “Kumaran and I often set out to paddle for pleasure,” he says. At the encouragement of friends such as Showkath Jamal, who runs the surfing school they work at, they decided to take it seriously. “We set out at 9 a.m. on February 25 on our paddling boards,” he recalls. They had packed snacks and cameras for the trip. SUP requires one to stand on the board and row using the paddle, negotiating the waves at the same time. Selvam says that the first few minutes were tough.

But once they crossed the choppy waters and entered the terrain of the calm sea, it was a whole new story. “We stopped to take pictures of us with the tall buildings at OMR in the background — we could see them clearly,” observes Selvam. And so they paddled on into the endless blue, when suddenly, they had company. Fishermen, who were returning with their catch, hollered at them from across the seascape. “They said ‘ponga da! Anga sura irukku’ — turn back, there are sharks beyond,” he recalls. “But we kept going.”

They encountered another group of fishermen, who warned them not to go further. “We decided to turn back then,” says Selvam. They were 90 minutes into the sea and had set a record. What followed was 15 minutes of heaven. “We took out our snacks and sat there in the calm. It was blissful.”

Riding high

Kumaran is a geologist in Gurgaon. The Chennai-based lover of adventure sports took to surfing in 2011. The 34-year-old is a student of stand-up paddling (SUP) and feels that there’s not much awareness about the sport in India. “It’s an easy sport in which the young and the old can participate alike,” he says. “Singapore, for instance, has a sport culture for SUP. Our record has created awareness on the sport.” Kumaran explains that the record was recognised by the Surfing Federation of India and the International Surfing Association.

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