Chances are, if you like to travel you’ve heard of or been to Mahabalipuram. What people don’t know about the town, though, is that the local children here spend all their free time riding waves and doing flips on skateboards!
When you step on the beach you can see the sea dotted with children who are just beginning to learn how to surf, as well as those who have mastered the waves. Walk a little further into the village and you will find another unique sight— a tiny skating ramp on which the local kids try to pull stunts!
It all began when Kamali Moorthy, a 6-year-old young girl from the quaint village, whose parents are fisherfolk in the community, shot to international fame when a picture of her skateboarding was shared by legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk on social media.
Kamali became the toast of the sport’s forums online, as the picture went viral, prompting another popular exponent in the field, Jamie Thomas to visit the little village on the outskirts of Chennai.
What he found there was remarkable — an entire village and community of fishermen and women, who have prompted their little kids to take to surfing and skateboarding, before and after school — to ensure that the sporting activities give them new-found purpose in life.
As we watch Kamali go up and down the ramps, showing off her potential, Aine Edwards, an entrepreneur who frequents the town to surf tells us, “Jaime Thomas, a famous skateboarder who also runs a skateboard-making company, came down here and gifted her his skateboard. But she shares this with all the children here and they take turns on the ramps. It’s amazing to see them just enjoy themselves.”
Talking to Kamali’s mother, we realise how important parental support is for women to follow their passion. She tells us, “We never had any problem with Kamali having fun. I don’t think one should ever differentiate between girls and boys, because that fear will hold the girls back.”
Kamali also peppers the conversation with a couple of “I love skateboarding, it’s a lot of fun,” before heading back to the ramp.
Poornabodh Nadavatt from HolyStoked was responsible for building the tiny skatepark right opposite Kamali’s house. “This DIY method came in when people realised that skateboarding wasn’t being given its due, and that the government doesn’t provide the infrastructure required. Especially in India, no sport except cricket gets enough support. So we decided to build our own skateparks that are free for all.”
He goes on to say, “We’ve already built several including one in Panna Tiger reserve and a couple in Goa, but we chose Mahabalipuram because it was a surf town, and surfing and skating grow hand in hand. After Mumu spoke to the village council, we got a small space at the community hall and with the visiting surfers; we built it in three days. And to see the kids utilize it is another high because now with more competitions and exposure, they grow more confident.”
When the raging sun grows calmer, the sea becomes more and more crowded. Kamali heads down with her uncle Santosh, who is a surfing ace, to learn how to tackle the ocean. In the shallow end, you can see the young ones learning how to catch the smaller waves while farther down you can see older kids getting the grip of conquering the waves. Surfing, bodyboarding, and skinboarding — they do it all. And they start as young as five years of age!
Mumu Surf School is responsible for most of the children getting to practice on surfboards for free. Mumu, who runs this surf shop, tells us, “I remember a time when I used to ask random people to let me use their surfboard once and they would refuse. So, I didn’t want these kids to go through the same experience. Of course, now I know that lending boards for free is risky because they get damaged. But the kids and I have a pact, every time they clean up the beach, they can use the boards for free.”...