Mangalore Lensman

An interview with India's first native surf photographer

| posted on November 29, 2012

Satyas, one of the best waves discovered thus far in Indian waters. Photo: Paranjape

The Indian surf scene has grown in recent years from tiny seed to eager sapling. Although they still lack numbers, the first generation of native Indian surfers make up for it with bold enthusiasm. Last time the Surfing Federation of India did a headcount, there were only about 150 native surfers regularly entering the lineup. And the number of native surf photographers to document this growing community? Just one—an aspiring Mangalore-based photographer named Rammohan Paranjape. I recently touched bases with Rammohan to talk about what it’s like documenting one of the world’s youngest surf cultures.

Are you the first native surf photographer in India?

Yes, I am the first native surf photographer in India, and at this point in time the only native surf photographer in India.

How did you get involved in surf photography?

In 2004 there were less than a dozen surfers in India. That year we started Mantra Surf Club [an ashram in Mangalore headed by the surfing swami Narasingha Maharaj] and started developing a website dedicated to surfing here. For the website, photos were required and so my journey began. Suddenly I found myself with a new and rewarding passion in life. I love surfing but I can say that my greatest passion, is photographing waves and my friends surfing. Another lovely aspect of surf photography is that it takes you to many new destinations, which suits me perfectly since I love traveling.

"This is Luke's moment of enlightenment, " says Paranjape. "There wasn’t a drop was out of place on what was likely the barrel of his life." Photo: Paranjape

Who are some photographers that have inspired you, or that you have learned from?

When Taylor Steele came to India with his crew to film Castles in the Sky, I got a chance to closely observe Dustin Humphrey who was the lensman. I was very inspired by his phenomenal knack for blending both culture and surfing in his photography. Before that, I absolutely loved his work from Sipping Jet Streams. Coming from this part of the world, I always want to showcase both the surfing and culture of this place in my own photography.

I am also a big fan of contemporary surf photographers like Morgan Maassen, Chris Burkard, Zak Noyle, and Russel Ord. I follow their work and to try learn from them and hope to eventually be a surf photographer of their caliber.

What is the surf culture like where you live?

I live on the west coast of Karnataka, South India. Mantra Surf Club is situated here and was one of the first surf schools and clubs in India. The surf culture in India is still not nearly as evident as places like Australia, Hawaii, Indo, or California, but there’s a great deal of enthusiasm for surfing here among the younger generation. Everyone from software engineers from the bigger cities to local village kids have caught on to surfing. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see India become a much bigger part of the surf map, but we still feel that the lineup here is never going to get quite as crowded as those popular surf destinations.

"Turban Legends: I saw these guys while I was strolling the streets of Pushkar, Rajasthan," says Paranjape. "I noticed them with their colorful turbans and their most amazing moustaches." Photo: Paranjape

Who are some of the local surfers that you shoot?

I love shooting my buddies Kishore and Kiran Kumar. I also shoot with some of the talented younger surfers like Satya, Shyam and Dhruv. I have been watching some of these kids from their very first time at the beach and it feels really good to see them doing well. I am really eager to see the other upcoming surfers from around the country.

What photo are you the most proud of, and why does it stand out to you?

I was part of an amazing surf trip last year with Craig Anderson, Daniel Jones, and Trevor Gordon when they toured India, and I absolutely loved photographing these amazing surfers. India doesn’t get as many visiting pros as other places in the world, which made the time I spent shooting these guys so incredible. And of everyone I’ve photographed, Craig Anderson simply stands out as a very unique surfer who just surfs with such style and elegance. I really treasure some of the moments I captured of him surfing here.

"Here is Craig Anderson cruising at Satyas," says Paranjape. "With the iconic goats of the island in the foreground." Photo: Paranjape

Obviously India can get great waves, but how often is that the case?

For world-class waves we have to travel to more distant parts of India, but we are more than happy surfing our local break, which gets a lot of great waves throughout the year. Our winter is best for beginners and we get our biggest waves before, during, and after the monsoon season [May through September]. Our home break is a clean river mouth with lefts, rights, and will break anywhere from 1 to 10 feet. Mornings are always glassy until around 11am, sometimes with slight offshore winds. The best part though is that we are the only surfers there, except the occasional guests. We don’t end up competing for waves—just friends and fun waves.

Where have you found the best surf in India thus far?

That would have to be Rastas and Satyas on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Those spots are on par with some of the world’s best. On the mainland, I love to shoot Mahabalipuram [a.k.a. the Shore Temple Break], Kovalam, Mangalore Jetty, and Murudeshwar. But I still feel the best break is yet to be discovered in India, either on the islands off the coast or hidden along the vast coastline of India’s mainland.

Are you interested in shooting outside of India?

I would really love to travel and shoot surfing around the world—that would be a dream come true for me. Bali, Sumatra, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Australia, Hawaii, Tahiti and Mexico are all at the top of my list. If I get a chance, I would love to shoot with Kelly Slater, Dane Reynolds, John Florence, Dave Rastovich, and Chippa Wilson…the list just goes on. There are so many amazing surfers and so many amazing waves out there.

"Indian surfers gather early in the morning at Mangalore jetty," says Paranjape. "This day ended up being the season's best swell, which happens to be pre-monsoon for mainland India. " Photo: Paranjape

"This is Rasta's, named after Dave Rastovich who happened to be the first person to surf the spot," says Paranjape. "On a southwest monsoon swell the break produces perfect right-handers, seldom with any surfers out." Photo: Paranjape

"This is Shyam, one of the surfer boys from Mantra Surf Club on a left-hander," says Paranjape. "He’s probably the country's best goofyfooter. " Photo: Paranjape

  • Jon Chester

    Great Article, thanks for stepping outside the boundaries of the usual content of hot, young, mostly Caucasian surf stars. Different cultures, coastlines, and perspectives are always welcomed.

  • Nathan

    Great article. Unique for sure.

  • chris eaves

    India always has been a place of interest for me with such a large amount of coastline and the always active indian ocean. also the vedic culture is amazing rich and engaging. thanks for the great article loved it.

  • Zak Noyle

    Amazing photos, hope to travel to India one day and to meet you. keep it up.

  • Jimmy the Saint

    Great article, and great photos. There are few warm water frontiers left for surfing, so enjoy it while its quite. Good to see a different country covered here. India seems like a dream location!

  • Paul Salo

    Fantastic. I brought an old board from San Clemente, bought an old Enfield and surfed all up and down India’s coasts in 1999. What a fantastic trip! Sold the board for a day of free food at a local restaurant in Mahabalipuram. (mentioned in the article) Mahabalipuram was double overhead but mushy my last day. Miss those sweet long bottom turns….

  • Dennis

    Great article!! you deserve the acknowledgment.
    Had the pleasure to meet you during my stay at the surfing ashram in march this year.
    had an awesome time, miss india and its waves.
    keep the good work up! and warm regards to diky, shyam, kiran, kishore and gaura and the rest of the guys

  • Dennis

    great article! you deserve the acknowledgement!
    had the pleasure to meet you during my stay at the surfing ashram earlier this year.
    miss india and its waves..
    warm regards to shyam, dicky, kiran,kishore gaura and all the guys.
    keep up the good work!

  • Aurofilio Schiavina

    Enjoyed the article and the great surfing shots. Thanks!

    However, without wanting to take away anything from Paranjape’s photographic skills and his love for the sport, I think that for history’s sake it needs to be pointed out that he isn’t the first native surfing photograher of India. He may however have the distinction of presently being the only native surf photographer who actively pursues this vocation with acclaim.

    Because much before he took interest in the sport of surfing, photography or even got into the water, Shilpin Patel, a native of Gujarat and a resident of Pondicherry was shooting the handful of the first and only resident population of native surfers in India, in Pondicherry in the 1970s and 1980s. In the water with his Nikonos II, he shot some of us surfing during that time.

    Shilpin Patel has other firsts to his credit in surfing. In addition to being the first (or one of the first) native Indians to have surfed regularly in India in the 1970s, he was the first to custom build his surfboard – a 7.5 banana shaped, yellow surfboard, made with a styrofoam core and fiberglass shell, fitted with an indigenously made wooden hand-shaped fin. A leash made with strips of rubber from bicycle tubes was added later. Board wax made from a mixture of bees wax and some other stuff (can’t remember… coconut oil to make it sticky?) worked fine. A handful of native surfers, learned to surf on this surfboard in the early 1980s in Pondicherry.

    Surfer Mag may also want to check this out, but Shilpin may also have been the first to subscribe to their magazine in India.

    Pondicherry is where surfing began and took off in India thanks to a few passionate native surfers like Shilpin Patel.