travel

Lisa Haydon heads to Puducherry to experience the best surf in India – and the laid-back lifestyle that goes with it.

Between catching waves I lie lazily on my surfboard, staring back at the shore. The sand is lined with fishing boats; beyond it lies a jungle of palms. It’s 7am and today the surf is particularly magical, the green waters of the Indian Ocean rolling like liquid crystal. As hollow waves peek quietly across the sand, the blue sky still resonates with the silence of early morning. I gaze at the point where the trees, sand and ocean fade to infinity. The beach, known by three names – Serenity, Banyan and Bodhi – has a raw, tustic charm about it. Observing it from the water, I’ve never felt more at peace.

Description: Between catching waves I lie lazily on my surfboard, staring back at the shore.

Between catching waves I lie lazily on my surfboard, staring back at the shore.

Suddently a low, gruff voice shatters my near-nirvana: “You didn’t come here to sleep. Get up and start paddling!” It’s the voice of my surf instructor, Juan Reboul. He and his brother Samai are the buff-bodied Basques pioneering surf culture in India. In 1995, when they were barely in their teens, their parents moved the family from Spain to the bohemian enclave of Auroville, a 10-minute drive from Puducherry. When, a few years later, a group of travellers let Juan and Samai have a go on their surfboards, the brothers were hooked. Skipping class to hit the waves became a way of life until finally, as adults, the Rebouls decided to launch one of India’s first surf schools.

The fruit of their labor, the Kallialay Surf School, is on Serenity beach, just 10km north of Puducherry on the fringes of a finishing village called Tandryankupam.

Description: He and his brother Samai are the buff-bodied Basques pioneering surf culture in India.

He and his brother Samai are the buff-bodied Basques pioneering surf culture in India.

The waves are the true stars here, drawing surf addicts from across India. Juan explains that the waves weren’t always this good: after the 2004 tsunami that ravaged this region, the Tamil Nadu government built two long piers to protect the beach. Unintentionally, they also created a surf break, providing great conditions for learners and professionals alike.

As the morning wears on, I watch Juan and Samai shipping around on their boards. They make surfing look like the most beautifulm effortless exercise on the planet. But it’s not that easy. Beginners start on a 9ft Styrofoam learner’s board with rubber fins. After about 10 lessons, if you’ve able to catch your own waves, the Redbouls will deem you ‘good enough’ to be entrusted with a shorter board. Once you become more of an expert, you can surf on an even shorter fiberglass board.

Description: The Puducherry surf is tamer in comparison, and with Juan and Samai’s personal attention I am sharpening my skills.

The Puducherry surf is tamer in comparison, and with Juan and Samai’s personal attention I am sharpening my skills.

I learnt to surf in Bali. The seawater swells high there, and you’ll find hundreds of surfers all trying to catch the same wave. I learnt by trial an error. The Puducherry surf is tamer in comparison, and with Juan and Samai’s personal attention I am sharpening my skills. It’s an added bonus that Puducherry is not, as yet, a popular surf spot, as it gives me the opportunity to catch my own waves without being trumped by a better surfer.

I’m back on the water paddling out to sea, rising and falling with the swell. As a big wave begins to break I jump up and start riding. The water carries me with it and I realize what it means to ‘ride the wave’: I feel totally free and at one with nature. I decided there’s no other feeling like catching your first wave. I feel like I belong on the water – to use the surfing term, I feel ‘legit’.

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