India aim to make waves on global stage- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

CHENNAI : “There is something about surfing,” Stephanie Gilmore’s eyes lit up instantly. “It’s a lifestyle. There are not a lot of athletes who choose to do their sport for leisure, and surfing crosses over so easily,” the eight-time World Surfing League champion told the Olympics Surfing YouTube channel.

Why wouldn’t it be? The sport that attracts lifestyle brands in the world like Vans and Red Bull and even inspired the invention of the ‘Go-Pro’ action cameras has to be among the list of ‘coolest sports’. It is that ‘sit back and relax’ beach sport adored around the world. And it was Arun Vasu, President of the Surfing Federation of India, who decided to bring the sport to Indian shores. 

“I have always been into water sports,” Vasu, told this daily in Mamallapuram, which recently hosted the first-ever Tamil Nadu International Surf Open. “I am mostly a windsurfer (a combination of sailing and surfing). I started when I was 13 and competed for four years. I got into surfing much later. Mostly because of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Kovalam. The main goal was to give them a different means to earn something rather than fishing, which is tough,” he added.

Surfing Federation of India President 
Arun Vasu | Ashwin Prasath

Kovalam, a small fishing village near Chennai, has been the hub for the surfing community of the state. With the 12 surfing schools in Kovalam producing several international-level players, the humble beginnings are finally reaping the rewards. “The idea was to create Kovalam as a tourism spot. For 10 years now, we have held surfing events in Kovalam, but for the last 2-3 years, as the Surfing Federation of India, we have been looking to grow the game and promote athletes. And the interest has peaked since the game’s introduction in the Olympics,” the SFI head said.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) opened the doors for five new sports in 2016. Under the ‘Olympic Agenda 2020’ the IOC added baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing, and surfing, mainly to attract the youth. “We want to take sport to the youth,” IOC President, Thomas Bach, insisted when the five sports became part of the Olympics.  “With the many options that young people have, we cannot expect any more that they will come automatically to us. We have to go to them. The five sports are an innovative combination of established and emerging, youth-focused events.”

Vasu hopes to capture the youthfulness of surfing in India. He believes that the government has started showing interest because surfing has been part of the Olympics since Tokyo 2020. “In India, it is extremely hard to get sponsors. It is a big step now that the government has stepped in to sponsor the first-ever world surfing league in India. I don’t think people realise how big it is. I am happy that (in our first attempt) we managed 11 countries to come in for this, around 60 participants from all over the world. We wanted to create an impact this year and to bring India on the surfing map,” he added.

Hosting the International Surf Open has been the tip of the iceberg for the Vasu and the SFI governing council. To grow the game in India and to get recognition as an Olympic sport, SFI has been working to establish more state associations. “We are in the process of establishing more state associations in India. The Sports Ministry has given us the waiver to have 10 state associations, instead of 25 (that is required). That process is ongoing and once we get to that, we can have the Olympics recognition. All of this has happened in the last six months,” you can hear the excitement in Vasu’s voice.

If everything goes according to plan, surfers could potentially get a chance to be part of the Indian contingent for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics. If and when the opportunity to compete at the highest level comes, Vasu knows how important it is to make them competition-ready. The SFI has laid out its vision for that as well. 

India Surfing brand ambassador and former
cricketer Jonty Rhodes/Ashwin Prasath

“We need a good five-year window (to grow the game). I am very confident that in the next three years, we will see a big jump. We are getting more people from cities as well. We need to grow more kids’ programs. Once the fear of water goes, and that bug is there, it’s easier to grow them. One example is Japan. As you have seen, there is a big Japanese contingent here at the Surf Open. Seven years ago, they were not known as the surfing nation. They focused on their Olympics first and now they are considered one of the top surfing nations.”

“We have talent here. If we groom them, we can compete at the next Olympics. By the time of the next Olympics, they will be around 17-18 and probably peak by then. They need to take it step-by-step. They will learn. Surfing is an infant sport in India but I am hopeful,” Vasu added.

To make the players competitive SFI has made efforts ranging from the coaching staff to training programs and Vasu believes the Indian team has responded positively to them. After all, for the first time, they hired a South African coach, Patrick Renaud, who worked with the Indian team. 

“He accompanied them to the World Games in El Salvador. Surfers have spent 3 to 4 months in Sri Lanka and Maldives for training. We could see immediately that there is a big improvement with the players. We have a good coach and we are investing in local coaches, too,” he says with hope.

Over the last year or so, Surfing Federation of India led by Vasu has ridden the wave to make its mark on the surfing world. More surfers, a world-class India-based Surfing Open, and recognition from the government and people are coming along.

So next time you find yourself on the beach, put on your surf music and embrace the surfboard. You will definitely look cool. And who knows, maybe you might fall in love with the Olympic sport.

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