Surfing in India, it’s a thing? No really? Ok I was a bit surprised when I heard this, I didn’t take India for a place where you could surf, let alone as a country with a surfer’s paradise. However in Kerala (which is in the south of the country) the sport is becoming more and more popular. Some of the local surfers are even turning it into a careers as they’re competing on an international level (including my surf instructor, Sha). Right before sunrise you see them coming out, eager to catch the biggest waves of the day. It’s quite a spectacle to watch as most of the Indian tourists and locals also head to the beach when the sun is going under. Together with these surfers, the beach really is the place to be at this time of the day.
The idea of learning how to surf again (I only did it once in Spain a couple of years ago) in this little beach town was a very tempting idea. Besides that, we had gotten to know a couple of the surf instructors. Seeing as they were so nice, there was no way around it, I would go in the water!
If you want to surf in this area, the Kovalam Surf Club is the place to be. Even though it is quite a young school, it has become a well-known entity in the area. Something to be proud of, because the founder is actually a Belgian as well, Jelle Rigole. I don’t remember the specifics of how Jelle ended up here but I do know that he founded this school in collaboration with a local social project called SISP (Sebastian Indian Social Projects). So when you’re surfing with the Kovalam Surf Club, you’re helping out the local community as well.
S.I.S.P. is a non-profit organization founded by two other Belgians, Paul Van Gelder and Werner Fynaerts, and operates in the slums of the beach area of South Kerala. It all started with a couple of underprivileged children that didn’t get a chance to go to school. By now it is a fully operational school at which there are more than 60 students, including a class dedicated to mentally challenged kids. After Jelle told us about this project we really wanted to see it. We were really humbled and grateful for having the chance to have visited to school and for the tour that we received for which this article and photos are the result.
The colorful school has no tuition fee and they even give the kids 20 Rupees per day that they attend. In addition to showing the community that going to school has value (quite literally), this also helps them to contribute at home. Keep in mind that this is a state where even kindergarden can cost up to 3.000 Rupees per month. At S.I.S.P. you have social workers working together with the teachers to get these kids through the exams of the final year in high school. Next to that they are doing so much more than just school and surf. They thought about pretty much everything to help the community support themselves. They provide family welfare, support small business with micro-credit unions, social employment, female empowerment and employment for single and widowed women.
But they are still working with kids and teenagers and, as you can imagine, it can sometimes be difficult to motivate them to work hard for school. This is where the surf school comes in. They motivate kids to stay off the streets and to stay in school because “no school, no surfing”. When the surf is too rough in the monsoon time, they take the kids skating at the top level of the school. If the kids are not attending school or when their grades are down, they are not allowed to surf or skate. Same goes for the older students that are working in the surf school, when they’re not working towards their exams, they might risk loosing the job that they like so much. A system that is working quite well. The proof is very visible in this little town. Several of the student have lifted their families out of poverty and are taking their education to the next level. Moreover, all around the town you come across intelligent en incredibly kind young adults that have gone to this school and are a still part of the Kovalam Surf Club community. So if you’re looking for a good surf school, looking to support the Kovalam Surf Club or if you want to see what work they are doing, make an appointment to visit the school. I promise you, it is a very humbling and special experience!
The photos of me surfing are taken by my dear friend Lieselot.