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Surf’s up

Riding the mighty waves A youngster enjoying surfing at Rushikonda

Riding the mighty waves A youngster enjoying surfing at Rushikonda   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK;K_R_DEEPAK -

Ahead of International Surfing Day on June 16, here’s a look at how the sport is catching on in the coastal stretch of Rushikonda

With pale yellow surfboards tucked under their arms, a group of youngsters head to the sea at Rushikonda. They hop on top of the surf boards and fearlessly tame the waves. Amidst the rush of tourists, seafood restaurants and fast-food vendors, a small community of boys from the neighbouring fishing village has transformed this sleepy coastal destination into a popular surfing spot. And training them since 2006 is Melville Smythe, the man who started the Waveriders’ Surf School (WSS) and brought about a change to the lives of 15 kids from the fishing community.

While the boys of WSS have had their special moments when international cricketers and expert surfers came down to the coast to surf with them, the young surfers are nurturing a different dream today. They aspire to represent their country in the Olympics some day. With surfing set to make its much-anticipated foray into Olympics in 2020 in Toyko, the young wave riders feel that they may finally have their moment in the sun. Like the waves he has braved to conquer, Smythe waded through a sea of challenges to set up the Waveriders’ Surf School — which has hosted names such as Jonty Rhodes, Paddy Upton and Sam Billings from the international cricketing fraternity. “The initial challenge was to bring about a change in the mindset of these kids who would often resort to begging on streets and frequently bunked school. It took a while for me to convince them to pick up the surfboard to make a living out of it. The sport helped discover many hidden talents among the kids,” says the 55-year-old national level surfing and sailing expert, who is currently associated with the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh. And now, he is hoping to draw the attention of the State Government to host a surf festival in the city and more importantly, get some financial backing to make the dreams of the young talented surfers come true.

A prodigy

Twenty-year-old Kalyan Rayithi, who hails from the fishing community, would have taken to his family profession had it not been for the surfboard that he discovered as an 11-year-old. Over the past decade, Rayithi has won several national level competitions held in Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu), Puri (Odisha) and Puducherry. But his most memorable moment was when Jonty Rhodes came up to him at India’s top surfing competition Covelong Point Surf, and introduced him to the media as a “surfing prodigy”. A first year student of business administration, Rayithi’s heart lies in surfing. But what’s holding him back is the exposure and lack of funds to travel to some of the country’s best surfing locations and participate in competitions. One of his biggest achievements is the surfboard he won while competing with international surfers in Puducherry in 2012. He was ranked No. 1 in his category then. After that incident, Rayithi had accompanied Rhodes and his family on surfing vacations to Kerala. Rhodes knows most of the young surfers of Rushikonda by their names. “He once told me that he loves surfing more than cricket,” says Rayithi.

From a mix of epic waves to beautiful, small glassy swells, time and again the waters of Rushikonda have been termed as a ‘surfer’s delight’. There are tourists from across India and passionate surfers from countries like France, USA and South Africa who have traced their way to the sands here. India has about two dozen listed surfing spots, mostly clustered around the South of the country.

Rushikonda beach features on the list of the popular surfing site magicseaweed.com that gives surfers all the required information about the swell consistency and wind overview.

Promising future

The last time cricketer Paddy Upton came to the city to surf, he was floored by the passion of the small community of surfers at Rushikonda who were trying to popularise the spot. In an earlier interview he had said, “There are five or six places that are known for surfing in India and Visakhapatnam has the potential to be right on top of the list. It has great waves and a fantastic beach,” and added: “If international cricketers come here and get floored by the beauty of the waves in Rushikonda, I can promise you that it will be great for you guys as well. Just give it a try.” While the Tokyo Olympics may be too early for the region’s young surfers, the future certainly seems bright.

The bigger challenge now plaguing the surfing community is the garbage strewn beaches that are a big blow to the image of this surfing hub. This year, Rhodes and other cricketers gave the coast a miss when they came down to India for the IPL.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 7:45:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/surfs-up/article24152326.ece

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