Is Chennai the city of sailors or the turf of surfers?

The hardy surfers or the dapper sailors... who do you think are more synonymous with this coastal city?

I am red in the face. “There’s nothing to be scared of,” says the ebony-tinted, six-foot-tall surfing coach. I don’t tell him that my ruddy complexion has less to do with fear and more to do with the exertions of holding my tummy in for the better part of the last hour.

I am near Kovalam, Chennai’s surfing haven, surrounded by lithe men and women who look like they have been poured into their body suits. Everyone is here to learn to be riders on the storm — like the thousands before who have been spurred by the city’s enthusiastic surfing community. Led in the initial years by men from the local fishing villages, Kovalam now hosts its own surf festival and is home to many a prize-winning surfer.

Former South African cricketer Jonty Rhodes and super model-turned-running evangelist Milind Soman are familiar faces here.

We limber up on the copper sands — stretches, lunges, burpees and the ‘pop-up’ that teaches you how to stand up in water. I am so out of breath that I am tempted to slip away and hide behind the coconut water vendor. Just then, Coach asks each of us to pick a surf board; I come up trumps with the pink one named ‘Padillac’.

“We’ll start with 10 metres in,” says Coach. I paddle in, so ungracefully that I might as well be auditioning for ‘jackass of the day’. Wave after wave peels away and scatters on the beach; I’m still prone on the board, looking nowhere like the man in my earliest surfing memory — the Apollo riding the waves in the Old Spice ad.

Alongside are a man and his dog balancing on the surfboard with a skill that is amazing. The dog probably has its own Instagram page!

A rare barrel wave turns me over and I plough underwater like a bobsled. It’s quiet — there’s sunlight, fish and the calm of eternity — till I cut my elbow on some coral before crash landing on the shore.

Deepa Alexander loves the coast but doesn’t lounge on the sands, lest she be mistaken for a beached whale.

Miles of heaven above, nearly equal depths of ocean below. In between, little specks of humanity bobbing on our fancy boats pretending we know what we do.

Well, they are — the dapper, savvy, internationally competitive sailors at Royal Madras Yatch Club. I am pretending nothing, but clinging on for life, hoping the dolphins will forgive me if I hurl my stomach’s contents into their living room.

I’m sorry, dolphins. I’m trying, but this vessel is almost perpendicular to the water now, and I see more ocean less boat below my feet. I wonder wildly how deep the water is, how many women like me can be stacked on top of each other from the bed to the suface. A hundred? A thousand? I’m too small for this, too inept. I’m too young to die.

Oh look, the boat is straight again: I can rest my feet, lean against the railing for half a minute. “It’s impressive that you haven’t gotten sea sick yet, being a first-timer,” someone tells me. I beam — of course, I’m a natural. I’m queen of the ocean. Oh no, they’re titling the boat again, everyone is darting to the other edge for balance. Somebody save me.

It is to the sailing team’s credit that no one has laughed at my sheer terror. That they are actually taking the time out to reassure and explain, in the midst of furling and unfurling sails, following commands, calculating wind speed and direction and keeping the slick afloat as it twists and turns impossibly. But then, this community in Chennai is a tight-knit and friendly one; maybe they remember their first time, too (the cool sea spray and leaping dolphins help).

The sailors deal with their tasks and my blunderings for an hour, and then it’s finally time to head back. “Did you have a good time,” they ask? “Oh, yes,” I say. “Would you like to do this again?”

Sure, a good rush of adrenaline never hurt anyone.

— Meghna Majumdar loves the blue, especially her deep blue blanket in which she hibernates all day, far away from Nature.

(In this column, we pit two Chennai icons against each other.)

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 6:59:30 AM |

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