The Kovalam Surf Club is located in Kovalam, Kerala, India and was founded in 2005 as a part of the bigger NGO SISP. SISP is active in the area since 1996 and tries to improve the harsh living conditions of the poorest by offering them free education, medical care, food support, old age care, micro credit unions, literacy classes, training and work in handicraft units.
The idea behind the Kovalam Surf Club was to get the children of SISP off the streets outside of the school hours and to act as an extra motivation to keep these kids going to school on a regular basis. The main rule to participate in the surf classes is: "No school - No surfing!"
The Kovalam Surf Club started off with 3 old boards and 5 to 10 kids, eager to become good surfers. The beginning was hard, as the kids weren’t used to take care of the equipment, especially if it has a certain value. So every week there were boards to be fixed, but the children learned how to repair the boards themselves and figured out it was hard work, so they became more careful.
But the tourism police and lifeguards were for sure the biggest problem. Because the only life these children know, is a life packed with violence and misery, so they acted like products of their society. These children weren’t welcome on a beach that is reserved for tourists, well protected from the dark side of India. The surf kids had to learn to behave in what we call a 'civilised' way, in order not to get sent away by the authorities. The local authorities now know the surfing children and respect them, as long as they behave appropriate, which they have learnt to do so.
Today, the Kovalam Surf Club has around 40 members and as a registered sports club, was the first official surf club in India. Thanks to our sponsors and befriended surfers we now have a surfboard for every child and an appropriate surfing outfit. The children have their own clubhouse, where we keep our equipment and slip into our surf shorts.
All members of the Kovalam Surf Club are local boys and girls from Kovalam and the surrounding villages. They all grew up in harsh living conditions due to extreme poverty, but surfing has had a positive influence on their lives. The key point is that all the surfing kids are regular at school and therefore will get a better chance in succeeding in life in a more humane way. But surfing also makes them proud and happy because for the first time in their life they get respect and attention for being good at something.
Foreign tourists as well as locals are impressed by the surf skills of the local surfers and are really stoked on riding the waves as well. The demand for surf lessons has never been so big. Some of the older boys, who have finished their school career, are now able to make a proper living out of surfing, by offering surf lessons, guided surf tours, board rental, and board repair.
The Kovalam Surf Club is unique in its methodology, because all the money made with the commercial aspect of the Kovalam Surf Club flows back directly to the local community. Our staff is being paid a very decent wage in order to establish a better life for themselves and their families. By the end of the season what is left of the profit we donate to S.I.S.P. to help this unique NGO in its struggle for a fairer world.
Of course we hold onto our non-commercial roots and keep on offering free surf lessons to local children from below-poverty-line families. Many of us travelling surfers have experienced the look in the eyes of the local children standing on the beach in less fortunate places in the world, while we are having fun in the water with their waves. Here, with the Kovalam Surf Club, we try to make a change and make sure that having fun in the ocean is no longer a right reserved for the lucky few who have the money to afford a board, but can become a passion for all...