above: India's stand-up paddle board
Everpaddle Adventure Ambassador
READ ABOUT AMANDA
SOUTHERN INDIA EVERPADDLE
By Amanda Roe - Everpaddle Adventure Ambassador
It’s five a.m. and dark, but I’m already suffocating from the oppressive, thick, humid heat of the pre-monsoon weather in Southern India. I’m wide awake, eagerly anticipating getting into the water because sleep is impossible.
India's eco-friendly paddle
On a walk along the red cliffs that back the beaches, I stumble upon the local fishing communities and find the beaches where the fishermen launch the twelve-man boats and two-man stand-up paddling boats that they have traditionally used in this area for years. In a crazy, convoluted mix of English, Malayalam, several hand and arm movements, smiles, and nods, I learn how the fishermen shape the wood of a local hardwood tree (the name of which I can’t even attempt to spell here), bind the planks together with line, and then use bamboo poles cut in half lengthwise with the concave side facing them as paddles. Their stand-up paddleboards on the water remind me of a reenactment of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer rafting down the Mississippi. Whereas most fishermen on the water sit as they wait for their catch, these men stand, looking very much like what we’re used to seeing stand-up paddlers do here in the U.S. Because their rafts are so stable, they can stand completely upright, and with their long bamboo paddles, their paddling stroke is extended, resembling a drawn-out Hawaiian stroke style. Intrigued by what I see, I arrange to paddle out on one of their stand-up boats later that morning…or at least, so I think. Instead, I get my first lesson that in India, nothing is ever as it seems, nor does it happen as you would imagine.
India has surf too
The paddleboarding fishermen are already quietly making their way through the water on the horizon as I head down to the village. I watch the launching of one of the big boats through the shore break and then wait three hours for all of the men to return to harvest the day’s catch. Just as I’m getting myself ready to take a few photos of the men on paddleboards and remind them about the little deal we made, groups of men lining the beaches begin to hail for me. They wave me over towards the fishing nets where one of the men hands me part of a line and motions to me to start pulling along with all the others. An hour later, with a sore back and exhausted arms (I swear, these are the longest lines I’ve ever seen), I realize that all the paddleboarding fishermen have come back in, sorted their catch, and gone home to rest for the remainder of the morning, and that my chance to get out on a board myself is completely lost.
So, does SUP exist in India? Well, yes. In a country where unpredictability is the norm and you have to constantly remind yourself that you really are in India, SUP is most definitely a reality as a traditional form of livelihood. As a sport, the potential is there; you just have to figure out how to get out of working the fishing lines first.