One of the best things about Varkala is spending time with all the guys who grew up here. Some of them learnt to surf through Soul & Surf, growing into strong and wonderful souls who now inspire the next generation to walk on water.
Words by Catherine Sarsfield | Photography by Deepak & Halina Pokoj | 1st November ‘17
At first they were reserved; they've known each other for years and it takes time to come forward and fully interact with the constant stream of new people who walk through the gates. We must seem so transient to them. We come, we surf, we stretch, we go home.
In the end, we always go home, so trust is harder to build out here. But a few days in, we are equally as enamored with each other. They high five me, they grant me nicknames; they smile freely, as if they are smiling with their hearts; and they are inquisitive, wide eyed and eager to learn.
I love how affectionate they are with one another – it’s a bond which transcends brotherhood, and it is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, especially not in western culture.
Sitting down with Praveen, one of the surf assistants in Kerala, the glean in his eyes when he talks about surfing is unmistakable. At nineteen he has been part of the family for over five years since learning to surf at Soul & Surf's Sunday surf club, something he tells me he is indebted to for enabling him to live the life he leads now.
I ask him what he plans to do in his future life, and his answer is simple and resolute: "I want to surf every day of my life." To him, a life where he can earn a living from doing what he loves is unfathomably exciting. It is life altering, and not in the hyperbolic, radical surfer dude way - but in the purest and most authentic sense of the word.
How often can we say that what we do has changed our lives for the better? Or perhaps more accurately, how often do we look back on the things that we have done or the places we have been and taken a moment to be truly grateful?
I have learnt a lot from these boys. About love and respect; about family and happiness; about being at peace both on land and at sea; about feeling humbled by the magnitude of the ocean and its power over us.
Praveen and I discuss this gift - that the ocean is infinite, that it can hide our deepest fears or expose them so dramatically just in the crest of a wave.
Because in this space, out in the line up or in the tumbling white waters, we are all equal. It makes no difference whether you are rich or poor, Indian or western, big or small, professional or a novice: in those moments, we are all at the mercy of the rawest and most natural tidal energy there is.
There is a line in Gregory David Roberts' epic account of his time in India, Shantaram, which goes: "Without love, India would be impossible." I have witnessed so much love in the spirit of this place and its people. It has been incredible to be a part of their world, and I am so grateful for my time spent with them.
Call it love, call it compassion, call it a hunger for something much bigger than yourself. Open up your hearts to these faces of Varkala, and their smiles which seem to break into your soul. They'll get you, and you will be utterly grateful.