Surfing In Varkala

Carolina surfers help Indian orphans ride waves

| posted on May 10, 2011

Eager to learn, these Indian orphans were thrilled to spend time in the surf at Varkala. Photo: Matt Born/StarNews Media

One girl was found in a garbage can. Another’s eye plunged by a needle so that she would be a “better” beggar. One girl watched her mother get run over by a train as they tried to run from police.

These girls now live together at an orphanage in Kochi, India. Jack Viorel first heard about them three years ago, at a book drive at St. Mary School in Wilmington, NC, where he teaches. The drive was to raise money for Homes of Hope, a Wilmington-based non-profit that helps support this, and other orphanages in India.

When he’s not teaching, Viorel runs Indo Jax, a surf school in Wrightsville Beach, NC. Viorel occasionally does free camps for kids who have disabilities.

“It was sort of a joke,” Viorel says, recalling the quick chat between he and Paul Wilkes, a religious author who founded Homes of Hope five years ago. “I was telling Paul about our charity surf camps and he looks at me and says, ‘I’ve got a bunch of kids who get left behind every year; why don’t you do this in India?’”

It took nine months just to get the boards there. Customs was its own nightmare. “They had never even heard of a surfboard,” Viorel recalls. After sending them a link to a company that makes them, Viorel was able to convince customs to push them through.

One year and 11,000 miles later, Viroel and a small crew of volunteers were on the ground in search of the nearest swell. They found it five hours away at Varkala Beach. The girls called the 2010 trip “Surf Safari I.” It was their way of making sure Viroel made good on his promise to return.

Last month, he did.

April means summer recess for students in India. And while kids around them spend those months with family, these girls, other than each other and the Salesian Sisters who care for them, have no family. The word “vacation” does not exist in their vocabulary.

So with eight longboards strapped to the top of a donated bus, 27 girls, two nuns-in-charge, Viroel and four American volunteers, sang and clapped their way back to Varkala Beach for “Surf Safari II.” For the newer girls, it was the first time they’d ever seen the ocean, much less rode a wave.

With the group, Reena, the little girl whose story still haunts Wilkes. He and his wife, Tracy, were tourists in Kochi when they met her. She had just turned 6.

“We asked our driver what was being done to help the throngs of children we saw begging on the streets,” Wilkes recalls.

“I can tell you; but, if you don’t mind, I will show you,” the driver replied and took them to the orphanage.

“They were desperately poor, barely enough food, so naturally I reached into my pocket for a donation,“ Wilkes said. “This little girl was watching me, standing in the shadow of one of the nuns. She was the only girl wearing sunglasses and I asked why.”

Sister Sophy, her caregiver, took the glasses off. “One of her eyes was perfect, dark bright,” Wilkes remembers. “The other was terribly scarred and dull.”

Sister Sophy told Wilkes that Reena and her mother had been begging when she was abducted. Her mother was mentally ill. They somehow got separated. Reena was swept up by India’s so-called “beggar mafia.” One of the men held her down and plunged a darning needle into her left eye. A maimed girl would bring in more money.

“I looked down in horror,” Wilkes recalls. “Little Reena returned my look with the most beatific, trusting smile I had ever seen.”

“I couldn’t just get back into my air conditioned car and do nothing.”

Each of their stories is equally tragic.

Rajeswari was just 5 when her mother was run over and killed by a train as they ran from the police. They too were begging. She is now 18.

For her, like many of these girls, surfing had a healing affect.

“I feel like a fish when I play in the ocean,” Rajeswari says. “My wounds are washed away. It is something beautiful, something wonderful.”

This is exactly why Viorel is already planning “Surf Safari III.” Next year, he hopes to extend the safari from one to three weeks so that he can include orphans from two other “Homes of Hope” houses the sisters maintain.

“The idea is to build self-esteem,” Viorel says. “If you can try and succeed at this or at least have fun with it, who’s to say what you can or can’t do? That’s what we try to teach the girls.”

For Reena, last month’s safari was especially meaningful.

She turned 12.

To celebrate, the nuns created a necklace out of a vine they found growing near the beach. They placed it around her neck. Everyone sang.

Reena then crawled onto a longboard, paddled into the Indian Ocean, and with the helping hands of Viorel, stood up and rode her first wave …goofyfoot. A smile spread across her thin face. And for the brief ride to shore, at least, the pain of her past seemed to wash away.

—Miles Christian Daniels

Miles Christian Daniels is a writer and filmmaker living in San Francisco. You can reach him at

After jumping through many hoops to get boards halfway around the world, the kids finally get out for a session. Photo: Photo: Matt Born/StarNews Media

The breathtaking view from the cliffs above Valkara beach. Photo: Matt Born/StarNews Media

Shency catches a wave in the Arabian Sea. Photo: Matt Born/StarNews Media

Letting the Arabian Sea wash away their worries after a long day at the beach. Photo: Matt Born/StarNews Media

  • paul hawkins

    one of the best things i have ever seen. how do i get on board to help

  • Mark P

    Awesome! Love this story.

  • MCD


    You can contact “Homes of Hope” and the good people there will be happy to help.

  • c.t. lo

    so touching, we need more surfing humanitarians like you and bring
    this Joy to many more third world nations — just beautiful, keep up
    the great work!!

  • gromster


  • Drew C. Wilson

    Great story Miles. You’re doing great work as I always knew you would.

  • Diane Evers

    What a wonderful humanitarian news article. Seeing those little girls and reading their stories is so moving. These were life changing experiences for them and they will never forget the generousity and kindness of Jack Viorel.

  • Deepak Kumar

    Angels on Earth!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sheri Crummer

    There’s nothing a good day of surfing can’t cure. Beautiful story. Thank you Jack Viorel for giving a moment of peace to these children.

  • Francisco

    This is a great article at so many levels. Thank you.

  • Chad Hauser

    What an absolutely beautiful and inspiring story in a world of chaos. Surfing truly does heal. Thank you for sharing a piece of information that would go completely unnoticed without humanitarians like yourself.

  • http://(fb)thewaterfrontsalon Donetta Livesay

    Beautifully written, although hard to read emotionally. The images are breathtaking. My sons have surfed (at least standing on the board and riding small waves with each parent standing nearby) since age(s) 3 & 4. They are now 34 and 37. This information, written by you is all new to me and to them, I’m certain.
    I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of Mr. Jack.
    I’m old, but I know surfing is a spiritual experience in the most positive way.

    Great Story, Miles.

  • Max Montgomery

    Great story on a beautiful organization, moved to tears… Awesome work and looking forward to hearing of Surf Safari III and beyond…

  • Mike Middleton

    I’ve know Jack Viorel since we were 8 years old and he has always put the needs of others before his own. What a wonderful story!!! With all of the evil in the world today, we need to hear about these types of stories more often!!!! Indo Hax Surfing rules!!!!

  • MCD

    Many thanks to each of you for your kind words. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this article and have been warmed by the comments both here and from those who e-mailed me personally. With all the bad news we’re inundated with each day, it’s nice to be able to report a positive story for a change.

    Thanks to SURFER for making room for such.

    Again, if you would like to contact Paul Wilkes at “Homes of Hope,” you can do so here: Or, to learn more about Jack Viorel and his terrific work at Indo Jax, visit his website:

    Thanks, again.

    – Miles Christian Daniels

  • Surf Community of Wrightsville Beach


    The attraction to this story is obvious for anyone who has seen the powerful healing that the ocean can provide but I think you need to do a little more research on the people who made this trip possible and not the one who takes all the credit for it.

    The INT boards that were sent to India were bought with money raised for a NC based non-profit called Ocean Cure. That organization, not Jack Viorel, has organized the charity camps that he takes credit for. Jack, a founding member of Ocean Cure has recently filed lawsuits against the non-profit in an attempt to bankrupt the organization. He currently has other people filing frivolous lawsuits in an effort to waste the charity’s money on legal fees, including one person who is seeking thousands of dollars for expenses he incurred on this India trip. Jack’s wife, the corporate attorney for Ocean Cure is now representing Jack in his lawsuits, a clear ethics violation.

    All sounds pretty hard to believe from a man with a “heart of gold”? Maybe you should ask Jack himself why he’s out to hurt people who are trying to do the very thing he champions…

  • Jack Viorel

    Miles and Matt,
    The false comments above made by the previous anonymous writer do not merit a substantive response in this forum. Instead I would like to comment that the two of you did a wonderful job covering the essence of the Indian Surf Safari. The strength and courage displayed by the girls of the Home of Hope, amidst such tragic and horrific circumstances is mind boggling. Your words and photos are as uplifting and inspiring as the girls themselves, and highlight such a positive surf trip.
    Jack Viorel

  • Anthony Shimkonis

    As one of the instructors / volunteers and member of the Wrightsville Beach community, I have to say this trip transcended everyone’s expectations, that I know. The goodwill it has instilled in the local community of Varkala, Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach is priceless. It is inspiring to see the unassuming manners and smiles on the orphaned girls faces who came from such horrendous backgrounds. Possessing a deep resilience to triumph over adversity and squalor. We could all learn something about ourselves through them

    Anthony Shimkonis
    “The greatest use of life is to spend it for something good that will outlast it”

  • Sea Breeze

    If you are someone who loves the sea, enjoys the gentle sea breeze and the benign roar of the waves, likes to stroll on the beach under the evening sun, come to Sea Breeze and experience your moments. The calm and serene atmosphere at Sea Breeze resort in Varkala takes you into a different plane altogether, helping you to make most use of your leisure time

  • http://no k. ramdas

    superrrrrrrrr? surf up [boys and girls ] freedom india.

  • Prakash

    Nice to learn different thing in india!