Updated: Jan 9, 2018
When presented with the opportunity to get in the water, I had to jump on it, even if it meant buying a last minute plane ticket to the other side of the country.
My "home base" in India is an extremely populated, industrialized city with constant car horns, rickshaw motors, and Hindi music creating an odd city buzz. The streets are littered with trash, and there is no place to paddle that wouldn't give the participant a severe illness. When I first learned that I would be moving to India, I reached out on Facebook to the only person I could find: Sampu Samantaray, or Sanjay as he is locally known. I was informed that he would be having SUP demos shortly after my arrival, and that I was welcome to come visit and participate. After settling into my home base in Pune, and realizing that if I stayed there I would never paddle (and never train for the WPA Championships in Cabo), I decided to join Sanjay and the Surfing Yogis at the SUP demo event.
I packed up my 8'6" Hobie Torque and my new Quickblade paddle and took a 3 hour car trip to get to the Mumbai domestic airport. I arrived at 2am for my 6am flight. I checked in and paid my 1000 Rupees to fly with my board. That's only about $20USD, so I consider it a deal. The part that isn't a deal is carting the board back and forth for oversized luggage screening, fragile sticker sticking, and loading. "Fortunately" there were some Jet Airway employees to help me, who were very straight-forward about mentioning how much they like tips. I took the hint and tipped them well to ensure that my board was well cared for. My board and I arrived safely in Bubaneshwar only 2 hours later.
I'm realizing that bringing my 8'6" Hobie was my smartest move yet. Anything larger or heavier would be impossible. Considering I must make extensive travel arrangements to get anywhere, and shoving the board into a van is better than strapping it to a rack due to corrupted cops. Moreover, HUGE kudos to Hobie and ProLite. I don't know if it is the board bag that is doing so well at protecting my board, the construction of the board itself, or the tips that I keep giving to the attendants!! Whatever the case, my board is traveling extremely well! (Knock on wood)
Sanjay was at the airport waiting with his intern Spandan; the flight I arrived on was the same flight taken by the representative from Vanhunks, the company doing the demos in Puri. They had shipped the SUPs for demos, but carried with him a surf board so I was able to pick him out of a crowd. Although, if we hadn't been carrying board bags, I could have still picked him out because we were the only pale folk. We loaded up and made our way to our beachfront lodgings somewhere along the coast between Konark and Puri.
The break in the front of the photo was the second break.
Even though I was exhausted from being awake the entire day before, driving to the airport through the night, flying all morning, and then driving more to arrive at our accommodations I COULD NOT WAIT to get in the water. After receiving a blessing (mud dot on forehead) and drinking the local "energy drink" without vomiting (questionable water with strong masala seasoning) I ripped open my board - ahh, opening an unscathed board feels good - and paddled it across a ripping river to an angry ocean.
It is Monsoon season.
I spent 30 minutes getting the shit beat out of me by the heaviest waves I've ever experienced. There were three breaks: a shore break with a killer rip (near the mouth of the river), a steep sand bar about 50 yards out, and then the gradual sand bar with beautiful, barreling, blue waves. I couldn't make it from behind the second sandbar to out past the final breaks. A surf board would have been easier, but there wasn't one available. The board that accompanied the Vanhunks had been damaged in transit.
No matter how hard you paddled after the second set of breakers, you couldn't gain any ground (err, water). There was another set of currents operating, and it was like a bad aquatic twilight zone. I paddled harder than I ever have in my life - on my knees - only to NEVER get any closer!!
I finally got hit hard and drug under for a little longer than I was accustomed to, so I decided to take a break.
After a few minutes of resting, I was joined by Spandan and a Dutchman on surfboards. We all went out. I don't know if it was luck, or being able to read waves: but I made it out! The boys tried and tried, but unfortunately it was too rough and they never made it. I started catching waves! These were some of the biggest, heaviest waves of my life (and getting back out still remained the challenge, but I was getting the hang of it).
After a few good rides, and a few hard slams, I decided to call it a day.
The locals gathered as I collected my gear, all extremely interested in what I was doing. I was informed that no one had ever seen a girl out there (let alone on a SUP). They couldn't believe my feet weren't strapped to the board; they thought I should have flown off when I went out over some of the waves!
I ended the day with spicy Indian food and Kingfisher. I slept extremely well, and it wasn't just from the exhaustion. Orissa is a much more environmental place. The streets are clean and green, there are fewer motors, fewer horns, and fewer people. I wasn't nervous about my health when I got in the water! When the monsoon clouds clear, you can actually see the stars.
In a country of noise, I finally felt silence.