Updated: Jan 9, 2018
I didn't know what to expect when I arrived in Orrisa. Since the day the plane landed in Mumbai life had been hectic. Whether I was wearing inappropriate attire, losing hotel keys, receiving fines from corrupt police officers, or swimming into green hair, something seemed to be going wrong. It could have been worse though, I was having tons of fun, and my Hobie Torque and Quickblade paddles continuously made it to all of my destinations unscathed. Life was good. The plane landed in Bubaneshwar, which was about 2 hours away from my destination somewhere along a desolate stretch of beach between Konark and Puri on the east coast of India. It was different here already. Driving anywhere in India is an experience in itself, but it was a little less life threatening here. (Although, it doesn't bother me anymore wherever I go, I've developed a tolerance. It's part of my training to maintain proper heart rate). The drive meandered through rice farms and small towns on a well paved street lined with tall palms. Each town looks identical and usually has more cows than people. Although, plastic trash was present, it was not as abundant as it was in the cities. After settling into my accommodations and surfing for an entire afternoon in ridiculous monsoon waves I visited the Surfing Yogis. They introduced me to a couple from Mumbai who were on vacation in the area and wanted to try Stand Up Paddling. The plan was to get together the next day and paddle down the river together. They we
re very excited, and so was I! I woke up ready and raring to go! It had been 20 days since I had paddled any sort of distance. After eating breakfast at the resort (questionable, but tasty), I crossed the dilapidated bridge to the road so that I could hail a rickshaw. Whilst loading the board, something down on the river bank nestled in the water hyacinth caught my eye. It looked like a large Stand Up Paddleboard!!! I grabbed my paddle and ran down to have a look. It was! It was a large "stand up paddleboard!!" Complete with foam core!
The next 10 minutes were spent searching for the owner so I could awkwardly ask with no words for permission to use it. He was finally found, and he was happy to let me try. The traditional method for getting this particular vessel around is with a long bamboo stick. You poke it down in the water into the mud, and push. I had seen numerous fishing boats use this method, but this was the first craft I had seen that wasn't a proper boat. It was "small" and made for a single user. It was heavy! Albeit, lighter than a fishing boat. With help, I plopped it down into the river and took it for a spin. For about 30 seconds it had some speed, then all of the interstitial spaces between the foam filled with water and it was like paddling a mattress. I switched between the traditional bamboo pole and my Quickblade paddle. Much to my surprise, even in mattress-mode, I was moving decently quickly against the current with my paddle. How fun… the rickshaw was becoming impatient. I finished loading up my gear and took off to paddle with the Surfing Yogis! The only exception to my pleasant driving experiences in Orissa came next. Even though there were fewer people and much less traffic, there were still more cows. Usually cows are not a problem. They just stand there and you weave in and out and eventually make it through the herd to continue on your drive. Unless… Unless there is a COW FIGHT!! We were driving through the cows in our little 3-wheel, 2-stroke, cloth-covered, no-sided rickshaw when a bull fight busts loose. One very angry bull was making it clear to another very large bull that bull #2 was not welcome in bull #1's personal space. It was like slow motion; we were in the process of weaving to the left of said bulls when bull #1 charges out of right field into the broad side of bull #2. Direct hit. Bull #2 staggers and starts falling left; we are on the left. All I see is cow fur next to my knee which is jutted out the right side to make room for my gear. The rickshaw driver swerves further left to avoid being crushed by the bull; we drop off the road and spin out slightly while driving on two wheels. Just like in SUP, forward momentum is your best friend. Had he stopped we would have wound up on our side, maybe under a bull. Instead, he gunned it! The rickshaw jumped back onto the road upright and without cow hide attached. The only thing you could hear was the buzz of the rickshaw for about 5 seconds; we realized that was an extremely close call. Then, the shock wore off and simultaneously we start laughing. We were laughing for a very long time. I'm laughing now just remembering. We didn't speak the same language, at all, not even one freaking word. We just kept laughing and saying things like, "aaahhh!!" "mooo!!" I finally made it to do some SUPing. Not sure how I didn't get the memo, but there were a lot of people missing when I got there. The couple was there, and it turns out I was doing the lesson. Cool! Unfortunately the guys at Surfing Yogis don't have much gear. They only have one paddle and 2 boards. They have a second paddle they made from the seat part of a chair and a bamboo stick – it works. Gear is extremely hard to come by in India, and there are NO manufacturers in the country. Big or small (some small-business guys would be well received). When these guys ding a board, it is out of commission for a long time; they don't have any repair gear. When they break a fin, that is it. You run finless or move surf fins around. I have a small "SUP care package" in the works if you want to send any old gear over. It's only a temporary fix until the locals learn how to fix things, make the material to fix things, and make their own things. For lessons, they usually go tandem due to a lack of gear. Unheard of in the states, and slightly difficult, there usually isn’t another way. For my lesson, I didn't send them tandem, nor did we do the distance down the river. We went to a small watering hole that fills in during the monsoon and they took turns. The whole afternoon was spent giving them each a lesson and paddling around together. Eventually, they wanted to paddle around the pond together on the same board, and they did great!! While we were there, some of the locals that live in the area came down to take their baths for the day. They were astonished with what we were doing. They wanted to try! We put them on the lesson board, and then some wanted to try my board (which is very hard to stand on). There was lots of laughing and falling in. Some of the other people visiting the Yogis also stopped by. I met one man from California who hadn't paddled yet, but was doing yoga. We did yoga poses on the board. I met Pratab (who has a very interesting story, hopefully I'll share it with you soon), who is interning with the Surfing Yogis and can already do sweet buoy turns on my board even though it was his first day on it (and I couldn't get him off it). I met a girl from Russia, who I "had to" show her how to do a headstand on the board, and she did. I got to jump off the small islands onto my board a few times before it was completely commandeered by the others, which made me very happy. Not a lot of people shared any one language. We all kind of pieced together sentences with words from various cultures. Everything we needed to communicate got through with nods, smiles, and laughter. As the sun started to set, you could hear splashes and laughter echoing off into the distance. Everyone wanted to get back on the boards for one more try or one more trick before we lost the light. Finally, we had to call it a day – there was no day left. We carried all the gear back over to the station through some cows in the street. Everyone was exhausted, but we couldn't stop talking and laughing. The exchange of experiences of the day over dinner is one of my favorite SUP-related activities. It made me feel like I was back at dockside after one of our Wednesday nights. Somewhere inside it made me a little sad, but even deeper than that it made me extremely happy. Even though I was on the other side of the world, I was with a group of strangers from all over the globe that already felt like family.