THE FIRST TIME VIGNESH V TRIED to catch a wave, he failed miserably. A 23-year-old from a fishing family in the village of Kovalam, around 30 kilometres south of Chennai, Vignesh recounted how, almost ten years ago, he, along with his friends D Manikandan and P Venkatesh, and others in the village, were inspired to imitate some Australian tourists, who visited Kovalam regularly to surf the smooth, steady waves that broke on its beaches. “We wanted to try what they were doing,” he said. “So we took some old planks of wood and went to swim in the beach. We couldn’t stand up on them though.”
Noticing the boys’ attempts, the tourists gifted them a surfboard. “We started playing with it every day,” said Manikandan. “All we knew was that to surf with the boards, you have to stand on it first. We would take turns to try and surf, before school, after school, on holidays. If there were waves, we would go surfing.”
Over time, sharing the single surfboard, Manikandan, Vignesh, and a few other boys of Kovalam taught themselves how to stand up without slipping. Then, they learnt how to catch a wave. Gradually, they became better at timing waves and controlling their own direction, flow and speed. Videos on the internet became a prime source of information on surfing technique.