Catching Waves in Kovalam~ My 1st Surfing Experience [Part I]

Read the full comic strip here:

One of the things I loved about Archie comics was their beach rendezvous, and to read about the Archie gang hanging out at the beach, with their life revolving around hunky lifeguards, beach volleyball, frisbee and surfing!

In India, we suffer from a fear of open water bodies with the general perception being that the ocean is something to be feared and best admired from the shore. It is a shame then that many of us miss out on actually “engaging” with the natural water environment that coastal India is blessed with.

I have always been fascinated by the sea but like so many other people, I never thought that one could actually swim in the Indian Ocean without courting peril. A few months ago, when Radhika was idly “surfing” (net browsing), she came across an advertisement to learn ocean swimming in Besant Nagar Beach, Chennai. I was quite upbeat about it initially but my excitement was soon overcome with apprehension that no matter how good the course instructors are, mishaps while swimming in the sea can happen to the most seasoned swimmers. While I dropped the plan to learn ocean swimming, I could never shake the idea from my mind completely.

I will soon be moving to another city, and when it dawned on me that I have limited time in Chennai, I could think of only one thing that I wanted to do before leaving: learn ocean swimming…I got in touch with Bay of Life (a surfing school based in Kovalam, Chennai) which also offers ocean swimming classes. They suggested that I join them for a surfing session in Kovalam this Saturday since surfing is a great way to have fun in the ocean.

I was quite excited about going surfing, and a little afraid too since I didn’t know what to expect…On Saturday morning, I steeled myself for this crazy experience and rode the bus to Kovalam…

It was a beautiful cloudy day in Chennai which made the long bus ride quite bearable.

We started out with ocean theory and learning about wave formation and currents. Using high school level concepts in physics and geography, we learned that the ocean is not the dangerous monster that it is touted to be, rather it is made for people to swim in.

One concept which holds true of swimming regardless of whether you swim in a sea or a swimming pool is that the human body floats naturally in water. This can be demonstrated by a simple concept which we learnt in physics called ‘density’. Air as we know is lighter than water, and since human lungs are filled with oxygen, the body cannot but float when in water. It is only when people panic that they stop breathing, and if enough water enters their lungs, they start sinking in water.

The human body is far more buoyant in an open water environment (such as seas and rivers) than in a swimming pool. This is because the sand and sediments in water bodies make the water much denser in comparison to the human body, and therefore the body acquires a natural buoyancy (the unusually high salt concentration makes it impossible to drown in the Dead Sea!)

The session also turned another misconception on its head: that the ocean sucks people in. The reason why we find littoral waste accumulation on beaches is for the precise reason that the ocean actually “throws back” whatever enters the water…this is actually Newton’s third law of motion, to wit, “To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  This might seem too simplistic, and one might ask that if this were true, why is it that sometimes even the best swimmers can drown in the sea. This is where ocean theory and knowing how oceans work become even more important. If a swimmer does not understand the direction of currents, they might swim against the ocean current, causing them to rapidly deplete their energy and being carried further out into the ocean, where they panic and drown.

Another safety concern which I had was whether we would be provided life-jackets while surfing. When we think of swimming or surfing in the beach, we imagine doing so in beaches with a great depth. The beach in Kovalam where we were surfing is shallow and the maximum depth where people actually swim/surf is four feet; so at all times you can feel the sand below your feet. Since we were not surfing beyond four feet deep water, I realized that I could swim normally without using a life-vest.

[Safety Tip #1: Before joining a surfing school, ensure that the instructors are also certified life-guards]

After the theory session (it was so interesting that I lost count of time), I went for a short swim in the ocean accompanied by the instructors. I know swimming, but this was my first time swimming in the sea. The experience was so uplifting and in no time, I was very comfortable in the sea. My mouth was quite salty initially and I had to rub the water out of my eyes because the salt can sting, but it didn’t take long to get used to it.

The swim warmed me up well and I could not wait to go surfing!

[To be continued….]

P.S.: The sand in the water acts as a natural scrub, and when I returned home, Radhika said that my face looked much cleaner than before!


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