Murthy Negavan’s first brush with surfing came in 2001 when he met Jack Hebner, or “Surfing Swami” as he’s more popularly referred to. Surfing Swami had come with his entourage to surf in Kovalam Beach, a rocky beach with big waves that lies between Chennai to Mahabalipuram. Murthy, a fisherman, like his Dad and grandfather, asked to borrow Surfing Swami’s board. Murthy surprised the Surfing Swami by balancing himself and standing on the board within the first 10 minutes. The fisherman from Kovalam’s life was changed forever in those 10 minutes. He had tried his hand at surfing before, using rudimentary devices like broken windows and doors, since he was 10 years old. But this was a totally new high.
On leaving, Surfing Swami gave Murthy his phone number and asked him to call, but Murthy who dropped out of school when he was in the fifth standard, did not know how to call an international number. But, having been bitten by the surfing bug, Murthy did not give up. Through some stroke of luck he bought a used surfboard from a fellow villager – who had been given the board by an Australian – for Rs 1500 and set out learning on his own.
Riding the wave:
In 2007, Murthy met surfers Tobias and Yotam Agam (founder of music label and audio visual company EarthSync) and made friends with them. When Yotam was leaving Kovalam, he gave him his board worth an estimated Rs 1 lakh. Murthy paid this favor forward by giving his own board to a fellow villager. “By 2009 April, we had 15 people who were surfing. I spoke about surfing, gave them all training and took some of them to a competition in mahabalipuram,” says Murthy.
In 2011, two things happened that changed Murthy and his fledgling surfing love affair, and turned into something bigger. Ten years after meeting the Surfing Swami, he met him again at the Mahabalipuram surfing competition. He recognized Murthy and was quite pleased with the progress he had made. In a competition that had plenty of international surfers, Murthy held his own, and came first among the Indian surfers and second overall. His exploits were covered in newspapers, and he got a call from an unknown benefactor, who was ready to bankroll Murthy’s dream of starting a surfing school to teach others in his village.
Birth of Covelong Point:
Thanks to Arun Vasu chairman and managing director, TT Logistics he was able to open Covelong Point Social Surf School, last November. Vasu donated Rs 10 lakh for buying boards, putting down the deposit for school, paying rent and salary for Murthy. Australian Group ‘Board For Billions’ heard about Murthy and dispatched 36 boards (31 of which are unfortunately stuck in customs) “I have taught 200 students till now. For me its not business, but more a social movement. I train students, give them the board free, take them for competitions by paying for food and travel. I have only two rules no drinking and no smoking,” says Murthy.
Murthy’s largesse does not end there, he often gathers volunteers to organize beach clean-ups, picks up homeless mentally ill patients gets them bathed and gives them new dress, picks up destitute children and calls the childline number to try and help find them shelter. Community work is not something new for him, he did it for a living for seven years when he worked with Chennai-based mental health non-profit The Banyan. He teaches students coming from Chennai and foreigners and charges them Rs 500 per hour. From the revenues since November, he has spent Rs 100,000 on funding the education of 30 students from his village.
Covelong Point Classic Surf Contest: now playing with the big boys
One of Murthy’s biggest dreams came true last month with the organizing of Covelong Point Classic Surf Contest between September 27-29. One of Murthy’s biggest strengths is his ability to get help from all quarters to fulfill his dreams. The three-day surfing competition came to life in association with the Surfing Federation of India and the support of TT Logistics, Tamil Nadu Tourism and Earth Sync. More than 120 surfers Indian and international surfers participated: the youngest was 12 years old and the oldest was 67 years. Besides surfing, the surfing competition had music and yoga. Popular acts like SKRAT, Alternate Garage, Franks Got The Funk, Mad Orange Fireworks and DJ Shiva Moon were part of the line-up.
The highlight of the event was South African cricketer and surfing enthusiast, Jhonty Rhodes, who was the chief guest. “The event was a huge success, it received a lot of press, we got good feedback and international recognition. Surfers came from all over including France, Japan, Australia, Spain and Indian places like Kerala, Orissa, Gokarna, Mangalore and Pondicherry,” adds Murthy.
The goal of Murthy’s surfing school is to spread the joy of surfing among others from his village and also provide them with employment opportunities. About 10 of his trainees have now become his employees and earn Rs 3000 to Rs 4000 during surfing season (typically April to October) and Rs 1000 during off-season (between November to March). Always busy, Murthy is organizing a free eye camp the coming November 10th and tied up with a local hospital for the services.