About an hour’s drive from Chennai city, near the suburb of Kelambakkam, lies a small fishing village. Every day, fishermen from this village set out to the sea to catch fish. But one of them, in particular, sets out to catch the waves.
Murthy Megavan is possibly India’s first fisherman-turned-surfer-turned-trainer. It’s not that the waves were any less inviting on the east coast, but rather that surfing wasn’t considered a serious sport, like cricket. Until now.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will include surfing for the first time in Olympic history. As India prepares her Olympic squad, it might be one of Murthy’s protégés who makes the grade – Sekar Patchai.
Perhaps nobody looks forward to the event as much as Megavan, who has been surfing in various degrees since he was a child. But how did he start his journey onto the waves? He tells us:
“My name is Murthy Megavan. Basically, I’m a fisherman. My mother and father were cooks. When I was very young, my mother and father had a misunderstanding. My father going some other place still not coming back, my mother also going my mother’s home. I lived with my grandmother. I dropped out of school when I was in the 6th grade.
Then I very love to ocean. Small also I love to ocean. That time everyday I’m going to the ocean, I’m going everyday fishing, then in my free time I take some broken wooden window and was riding it. That time, I don’t know that is for surfing, or bodyboarding. I enjoyed the wave riding that time, from small age, 11-12 years.”
His first experience on a surf board was in 2001. He was sitting on the beach near his village, while some foreigners and IT guys were surfing. He asked them to give him a board. One of them was about 55-60 years old. Jack Hebner, A.K.A. the ‘surfing swami’, runs a surfing ashram in Mulki, Mangalore. Jack is popularly credited with the birth of surfing in India. He gave Murthy the board for fifteen minutes.
After seeing Murthy surf for a short time, he was impressed enough to give him his number. But Murthy couldn’t manage to contact him afterwards, and lost the contact.
Murthy kept on surfing. With nobody to teach him, he had to be self-taught. The locals, watching him fall between the waves, looked at him like he was a madman. “He only wants to enjoy the waves, it looks like he does no other work,” they said. He ignored them, and practised anyway.
Several years on, and the students of both Jack and Murthy are set to participate together, at the International Surfing Association Stand Up Surf and Paddleboard Championships in Fiji. It’s a quirk of fate, perhaps. Both Murthy and Jack stay in touch. “Now he is 75, so I call him, and chat on Whatsapp,” says Murthy.
Chance again intervened, and introduced him to Yotam Agam, an Israeli music producer then based in Chennai. Yotam gifted Murthy a board. Once Murthy started to improve, and trained the local kids to surf, Yotam decided to make a documentary.
Murthy loved teaching kids to surf. Over the years, he started wanting to teach more people to surf. Once the businessman Arun Vasu heard about him, he funded Murthy’s academy for a year. One year was enough to get started, says Murthy proudly.
Soon, he started trying to make the beach a better place. “I do some social activities you know – beach cleaning, no drink, no smoke only, surf life is good.” He gave kids free runs on the surfboards, provided they helped clean the beach. He put the money he got from the customers who rent his boards into his school.
In 2013, Murthy organized the first surfing festival in India. He says he had to change the name from Kovalam to Covelong (the old British name for the suburb), because people kept travelling to Kovalam, Kerala to visit his school.
With Sekar heading to Fuji, the long road to the Olympics has begun. Murthy believes his boys will make the grade.
“100%. Everybody is waiting for Tokyo 2020, because all over India my boys are the No.1 surfers. My boys for my village are No.1 in every category from U-16 to senior level. Our surfers are very powerful and win competitions, very good style, stamina. Very good attitude, very good interest. I hope my boys will win.”
Without government funding for the Fiji trip, he may not be able to afford to see Sekar perform in Fiji. It doesn’t matter to him though, as he’s fairly sure he’ll be able to see them at the Olympics.
We asked him what surfing meant to him.
“Surfing is my life, my heart. You are one with nature when you surf. Any family, job, personal problem – you can go and surf, then your problem always go to the water, and then you come to the shore a very free man.”
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