On November 12, Sekar Patchai, 26, will make history as the first surfer to represent his country on the world stage. He likely won’t be the last. With over 4,600 miles of coastline and more than 17% of the world’s population, it’s only a matter of time before more Indian surfers begin to bust down the door (and I use that parallel intentionally) of the upper echelons of competitive surfing.
Sekar will compete in the Technical SUP and Distance SUP divisions. Photo: Movingimages
Sekar will compete in both the Technical SUP and Distance SUP races. In other words, he won’t be riding waves like the SUP Surfing division in this contest. Still, it’s worth noting that Sekar surfs in a more traditional sense at home in Kovalam, a small fishing village on India’s southeastern coast, and is also a fisherman. He’s a waterman in every sense of the word.
At age 10, Sekar dropped out of school. “I was never interested in studying,” he told The New Indian Express. “After a tiff between my father and my teacher, who hit me as I failed to complete my homework, my father asked me to do what I felt like doing. So I dropped out of school and took up our traditional occupation — fishing. I became one with the sea and I could easily predict the weather, the waves, the wind speed and the current.”
It took a few years, though, for Sekar to take up surfing and stand-up paddling. His mentor, a trainer at Covelong Point Surfing School in Sekar’s hometown, known simply as Murthy, was his primary inspiration. “Murthy used to surf all the time, and we were all intrigued by what he did. And we wanted to learn it too. Most of what we know today is not through personal mentoring…it’s solely by watching Murthy practice,” he said.
Murthy bought a single surfboard, eventually adding two more for everyone in the village to share. Sekar would wait three to four hours at a time to try his hand at surfing.
Hailing from a small fishing village named Kovalam, Sekar dropped out of school at 10 to become a fisherman. Photo: Sunder Ramu
Now, under Murthy’s tutelage, Sekar’s earned 10 national championships for stand-up paddling, and is hopeful for his first international showing. “During training sessions, I have completed 20 km in two hours and 20 minutes,” he said. “The world record is one hour and 50 minutes and I am intending on breaking the record.”
Murthy has faith in his protégée. “He has never lost in stand up paddling, and the speed in which he does it is amazing!” he said. “I would confidently vouch for him!”
Sekar’s success has allowed stand up paddling to become much more than a hobby. “The family expenses are covered with our earnings,” he said.
His younger brother also makes some money through surfing, working part time as an instructor at the surf school.
In Kovalam, fishermen get a bum rap, says Sekar, but surfing may have the power to change all that. “Most people perceive fishermen as drunkards or people who always fight. But, that isn’t true, ” he said. “With proper guidance, awareness and education, we can achieve greater heights. People from my community recognize me. They also know that the ‘Covelong boys’ are talented…but, they need some more time to come out of the social conditioning.”
Sekar’s appearance at this year’s contest is unprecedented, but his family and community are behind him. “I am terrified when he ventures into the sea all alone,” said Sekar’s mother Marimuthu. “But, when he comes home victorious I feel very proud.” Going into Fiji having never lost a SUP competition, Sekar may add another first to the list for India as the country’s first SUP champion crowned at an international surf contest.