Twenty-nine kilometres from the port city of Mangaluru lies the quaint little town of Mulki. Known for its unique old Dakshina Karnataka charm, this little Panchayat town has quietly been shaping the Indian homegrown adventure sports narrative here since the last 16 years. Just like the fresh filter-coffee aromas that greet you in the morning by-lanes, and the famous water buffalo races, the homegrown surf culture of the village-town marks its distinct identity on the region.
Surfing enthusiast, writer, and photographer Ron Bezbaruah knows the place from his many visits. He recounts, “As you cut across the backwaters of Shambhavi, the tiny fisher village and the Mantra Surf Ashram comes into view. This is where the Indian surfing story began.” The photographer who brings us the untamed captures from the region in this edition’s Drone’s Eye, explains the legacy of the ashram and its Florida-born evangelist.
The Ashram’s founder, also Mulki’s most popular fixture — the Surfin’ Swami aka Jack Hebner was raised a Floridan, before wandering the hippie trail of the 70s through India. The follower of the Hare Krishna movement travelled through the country and discovered that destiny had delivered him to Mulki to set up India’s first surfing school in 2004. The sleepy, nondescript town was soon to wake to a sporting revolution in the making.
At Mulki, the local fishermen took to the sport like fish to water. Founder Jack’s Surfing Swami Foundation (SSF) was raised to teach surfing and environmental awareness to children of any age or gender. To his joy, young Indian boys and girls adopted the sport with all their untapped enthusiasm. His Foundation would go on to sponsor the All India Surf Team and the Indian Open of Surfing in 2017.
Swami’s mentorship has paid huge dividends as young boys and girls are seen riding the waves on surfboards — a sight not witnessed often in India. These little adventurists ride waves as high as 6 feet with great dexterity and control. The Foundation has brought the US East Coast surf culture to the fishermen community. And it’s a wonder to behold.
Today, the ashram teaches SUP surf, surfing, surf yoga, stand up paddle, yoga, meditation, jet skiing, wakeboarding, waterskiing to name just a few activities. For those wanting to explore the backwaters, the ashram also organises riverboat tours, kayaking, cycling tours at the retreat. The ashram is run by internationally certified volunteers who in their own words “accept room and boarding as compensation.” The vibe here is precious.
The sun, the beach, and the waves have many international tourists and homegrown adventurists favouring the place as opposed to the popular Goa getaways. The Ashram and its people are what makes the place so memorable. Lately, the ashram and its proteges have been making quite a mark on the international circuit bringing much-needed attention to the adventure sports community of India. India’s top female SUP athlete Tanvi Jagadish is one of the most well-known internationally acclaimed surfers. India’s first and only surf photographer Rammohan Paranjpe is yet another maverick who can be found riding the waves during the season.
With a massive coastline stretching over 7.517 km, India holds the promise of becoming the great surfing destination of South-Asia. What started with a handful of enthusiasts a few years ago, today has everybody excited. The sport is all set to be inducted into the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
An argument has been made; It’s time more Indians rode the wave. If we’ve inspired you to embark on a fun getaway to the beaches of South-India, then pay a visit to Mulki, whose brand new cultural revolution is all set to spread to other parts of the country.
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