“You can surf in India?” is the reaction I received from most when I told them I was planning on traveling the Indian coast with two surfboards.
While India is rightfully overshadowed by the world-class surf of its Indian Ocean neighbors Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great Indian surf adventure.
India has bountiful waves and a nascent surf culture that is growing fast.
India offers waves — and plenty of adventure. Photo Courtesy Quarnstrom
Why Surf in India?
India will provide you a surf trip like no other. You’ll need to bring a healthy appetite for adventure and an openness to step out of your comfort zone to experience the unknown.
You’ll get a unique cultural experience of cuisine, tradition, and spirituality, coupled with thousands of kilometers of empty waves.
During my travels on India’s west coast, I was often surfing alone or with just a few other people.
Outside of the main surf hubs, much of India’s coast is still a surfing frontier, featuring spots that may have rarely or never been surfed if you can catch them with the right conditions. Scoring firing waves in India isn’t easy, but if the conditions align, it’s a truly unique experience.
How To Get to India
India’s coastal regions feature several international airports, like Mumbai, Chennai, or Kochi. National flights are affordable as well to reach your destination.
My trip commenced with a flight to Mumbai and I then navigated all the way to the country’s extreme south with a combination of a national flight, buses, and trains.
The best surf season depends on the location.
As a rule of thumb, you generally want to avoid the monsoon seasons: June to September on the west coast and October to December on the east coast (although windows of chunky monsoon swell can be good at times).
The summer months, June to September are the best chance to receive strong, long period swells from the south Indian Ocean.
Where to Go
When planning a surf trip to India, there are three general options: west coast, east coast, and outer islands.
My trip started with stormy monsoon swell in Goa in September, concluding with strong, post-monsoon swells in Kerala in November.
A look at some of the locals in India. Photo Courtesy Quarnstrom
The main surf hubs are centered around Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Lakshadweep Islands, and Andaman/Nicobar Islands.
The 5 Best Waves in India
Mahabalipuram, or ‘Mahabs’, largely considered the best wave in continental India, is a high-performance right point break that bends around a thousand-year-old Hindu temple on the shore.
Visit Mahabs during the Indian Ocean’s peak swell season, June through September, for the best chance of epic surf.
Just up the coast from Mahabs on the outskirts of the metropolis of Chennai is another epic sand-bottom point, Covelong. Like Mahabs, the wave is best during the summer swell season and has been host to various surf competitions and festivals over the years.
Located in the state of Kerala on the southwest tip of India, Varkala is the gem of west coast Indian surfing.
I stayed for two weeks in Varkala and scored epic, punchy beach break at Black Sand Beach.
As the point breaks fill with sand after the monsoon season, the town also features a few user-friendly left point breaks.
Punchy, indeed. Photo Courtesy Quarnstrom
Sitting just north of the Maldives, India’s Lakshadweep Islands became famous with their appearance in surf flicks like Taylor Steele’s ‘Castles in the Sky’.
Like the Maldives, the Lakshadweep Islands feature heavy, shallow coral reef breaks.
However, you probably haven’t heard much about the islands due to their inaccessibility.
From India’s west coast, you need to take a 14-18 hour ferry, or an expensive hour and a half flight.
If you make the journey, you will likely be surfing by yourself, or perhaps with a local or two.
If you look at a map and follow the Indonesia archipelago north, you will come across the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which are part of India.
These islands are still a frontier of surf exploration and seldom visited by traveling surfers.
Logistics could be an issue to get to the right waves at the right time, but if you can invest the time and money into an off-the-grid surf adventure, you will find waves not dissimilar from the world-renown spots just to the south in the Indonesia archipelago.
What Surf Gear You’ll Want to Bring to India
Given that the surf industry is still nascent in India, you will need to bring everything with you and spare parts, as even basic surf items can be difficult to access in India.
Bring ample amounts of warm water wax and basic ding repair. If you get a ding outside of the main surf towns, the only person that can help you is yourself.
Bring spare leash strings, fins, and more than one board, because, again, these items will be difficult to replace if anything happens.
If surfing mainland India, you’ll likely want to pack boards with a bit of extra foam, if not a longboard.
The waves can pump during swell events, but you’ll likely have lots of small days as well.
One extra pro tip: Bring your own roof straps for tying your board to a taxi or tuk-tuk. Indian taxi drivers are not used to transporting surfboards, so they always appreciated it when I had my own straps.
Adapting to Indian culture definitely takes a bit of time, but once you get the hang of it, it’s one of the world’s most amazing cultural experiences.
Depending where you are in India, most people are vegetarian, so be prepared to do without meat.
All boards are accepted in India. Photo Courtesy Quarnstrom
For women traveling in India, assess your surroundings when deciding what attire you will surf in.
Surfing in revealing bikinis is generally not culturally acceptable, and most women surf with outfits that are a little more modest.
The Bottom Line: Surfing in India
In India, you will find some of the most welcoming lineups in the world.
Surfing is relatively new to India, but the surfing bug has caught on, and the sport is rapidly growing around the country.
With nearly a billion and a half people, you could say India is the most untapped surf market in the world, and it’s only a matter of time before the sport proliferates.
If planning a surf trip in India, keep your expectations in check and bring a keen sense of adventure. While the waves can be good, you probably will not get the waves of your life, but the overall experience of using surfing to connect to the rich, unique cultures of India is an unparalleled experience in itself.
Dispatch is an ongoing column featuring a firsthand account of the surf scene abroad from American Surf Magazine Contributors.