Women’s Day special: meet Ishita Malaviya, India’s first pro surfer girl

Ishita Malaviya, India’s first pro female surfer
Image courtesy: Ming Nomchong

She was born in Mumbai. Her tryst with surfing happened in 2007 while she was in Manipal pursuing higher studies. She met a German exchange student who had come down to India with a surfboard. And discovered a surfing ‘ashram’.

Today she runs the The Shaka Surf Club with partner Tushar Pathiya in the small village of Kodi Bengare in Udupi, Karnataka. Meet Ishita Malaviya, India’s first pro female surfer, here in an interview with us.


On how she discovered surfing…


"For me, surfing was a love affair"
Image courtesy: Ming Nomchong

“I took up surfing as a way of life. My entry into surfing was never through competition. It was a love affair. I studied journalism, and my boyfriend did architecture. We started surfing because we fell in love with it.”

On what surfing has taught her…

“I believed that I could build a life around surfing. We have to trust our instincts, follow our passions and believe that the universe will guide us. Surfing has taught me to be patient, to go with the flow.”

Your favourite surfing spots?

“I don’t really have any favourite surfing spots. But if I have to name one, it would be my home break. In India, we like going down to Kerala, Varkala, Mahabalipuram…, every place has been special. I travel abroad quite a bit to surf, too – Hawaii and California to name a few. I also recently went to Sri Lanka for two weeks.”

One thing we should know about surfing?

“During monsoons, – we’ve seen waves that break at 20-25ft high on India’s west coast. But surfing is not about catching the big wave, you know. It is about self-expression. You can do whatever you want. You want to go chase the big wave, do that. Or you can just cruise and hang loose on two-footers. “

Tell us about your surf camp at Shaka.

"Surfing is not about catching the big wave, you know. It is about self-expression"
Image courtesy: Crystal Thornburg-Homcy

“Our school is located on a narrow stretch of land – we have the beach on one side and the sea on the other. Life is slow. People from all over the world come here. When there are guests, our day starts early. We have a delicious breakfast, surf for two hours till about noon and break for lunch – our fellow villagers make some mouth-watering fish curry rice. The money goes to them. Then we get some hammock time and surf in the evening till sunset. Late evenings are usually filled with lots of bonfires and barbeques.”  

On beach culture in India…

We don’t have the concept of a beach culture in India. Also, most Indians live with a fear of the sea. And most people don’t know how to swim. Many of the fisher folk in the village where our school is based don’t know how to swim. This, despite going out to the sea to fish, sometimes for days on end.”

“That is changing now. We have got so many people from the community learning how to surf. We have a 65-year-old grandmother who surfs with us. Fisher folk have looked at the ocean only as a means of income; they never really had a connection with it. Surfing is like the missing link. You have a deeper respect for the ocean when you have surfed the waves. Also, the concept of leisure did not exist in India. Not many people could afford it. Now people are looking to do these things more – explore, travel, do some adventure sports etc.”

As told to Anuradha Sengupta.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Anuradha Sengupta is a freelance writer and founder-editor of Jalebi Ink, an award-winning media collective for children and youth. A compulsive city-walker, she loves exploring urban cultures and is a columnist for NY-based Karta, a collaborative urban mapping project. Her most memorable adventure was in Afghanistan as digital media advisor, setting up citizens' media centres.