Photos by Kaelan Sizemore
An interview over the internet is never ideal. So much is lost without meeting face to face. I caught up with Sampu Samantary or Sanjay Ray as he’s more widely known, after he returned from a trip full of discovery to the “wild and virgin” region of the Bay of Bengal, where he said he found some “world class waves.” However, sat on Facebook chat late at night I can sense his beaming smile as the symbol indicating his reply returns to the bottom right hand corner of my screen, and it’s becoming infectious.
“Waves, culture and spiritual journey, make a unique surfing journey,” says 41 year old Sanjay, who hails from the Orissa region of India. I’ve never really considered a surf trip to India, but as he describes his love and passion for the country I find myself wishing myself away from a wet and currently wave-less West Cornwall.
“In India, one has to dig a life from shortage and struggle in the mass. It took 20 years from my first beach adventure, for me to settle my bread butter house to come back to the beach and to start the surf things. It was a big challenge for surf to be in India due to lack of experts, equipment and the surf culture. Yet I had plans, to use the power of internet as my tool to organise the hurdles.”
Sanjay is the founder of Rangers Adventure Foundation who has been facilitating camping on the beaches of the Bay of Bengal since 2002. “SurfingYogis operate from our campus at the Puri -Konark marine drive with a secret beach break behind our forest,” he explains.
“Our team, Surfingyogis was recognised by our state tourism department which opened the official surf history of India and we started taking expeditions along the coast to search for waves.”
Unlike so many companies that focus purely on wave quality, Surfingyogis, place a heavy emphasis on keeping a healthy balance between the sport and the country’s natural beauty, careful not to pollute or damage the beaches or any of the surrounding ecosystems, offering its customers more than just waves.
“We try to provide such trips to open minds, or those who are ready to open their mind for possible spiritual elevations within scientific justification. Surfyogis is about living to the fullest in joy, love and service.”
In February of this year, Ramachandi Beach, on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive in Orissa played host to The India Surfing Festival (ISF). With Orissa State Tourism Department and Chilika Lake development authority being the only companies getting behind the event, Surfingyogis took it upon themselves to provide a unique experience and they didn’t disappoint.
“We worked hard to bring all this without corporate sponsorship and yet we showed to other festivals to adopt an artistic approach to avoid high tech pollutant plastic. It all came out good. India is Surf ready now.”
“My work is kind of random,” he explains, “talking to different companies and government officials here to promote our different goals.”
To many people surfing in India is still a strange concept. In a country widely associated with poverty and disease people overlook the wave potential of the forgotten coast line.
“There aren’t many people that know about the surf scene here”, says Kaelan, “that’s the problem, and so much of it has gotten lost in translation with Indian journalists.”
Sanjay describes Kaelan as “King cool,” and I’ve got to admit, after spending some time with him in Mexico in 2010, I can see where he’s coming from. The length of his hair and beard along with his laid back approach to life has to be admired, regardless of his ability on a bodyboard.
He names a Mexican wedge and South Straddie in Australia as his favourite beach breaks but claims to have found India’s answer to these waves earlier this month.
“A heavy inside sandbar, breaking like a wave back home in Cali that’s considered to be pretty good. I got one of the most aesthetically pleasing photos I’ve ever captured Bodyboarding, super glassy wave with my reflection in it. It’s very trippy. And about 2 weeks ago we had really good beach break it was like a left and a right with a channel in between and ramps at the end of each wave but, the surf would be comparable to a much smaller version of Mex-pipe on a blown out afternoon almost every day. I’m definitely having a blast.”
To many people surf tourism is becoming a stale industry, sometimes it feels like every corner of the world is being raped for waves and good times. But it seems India is introducing a much needed breath of fresh air back into the surfing world, far from the pretences of popular destinations.