SurfWala: How this Japanese man came to live in Goa and set up a surf school

Based on Arambol beach, Surf Wala is the pioneer of surf schools in Goa.  Started by a Japanese international, SurfWala has become a vibrant community of surf lovers

A camera shy Jonathan with an international surf group

On a recent visit to Goa, we went to Arambol and along the palm tree-lined coastline of North Goa, we came across surfers dotting the beautiful waves. Spending some time on the beach, I came to know about SurfWala, the surf school, and had an opportunity to speak with Jonathan Young (aka JoNo) who started the school along with Anton Hagen.  Originally from Japan, Jonathan (33) has been living in Goa ever since he came to India on a cultural excahnge tour when he was a teenager. Surfing, he says, comes to him naturally. He hit the ocean with his surfboard and taught himself how to surf at a very young age.

“I remember the first time I started surfing here; people would actually call me out of the waters and tell me that I can’t surf here. At first, I thought that we weren’t allowed to or it was dangerous to surf here, but then I realised that what they were saying was that it was impossible to surf here. It’s just that people had an idea that surfing used to happen in Hawaii, Bali, and Australia, and they just couldn’t imagine that we could do it here in Goa,” Jonathan quips.

Around 2010-11, Anton, a Russian, was travelling and in Goa, and asked Jonathan to teach him surfing.  Initially, Anton started surfing with him, and soon he became of great help because of his Russian ethnicity, becoming an intermediate between Jon and the other Russians who wanted to learn how to surf. After a couple of seasons, he started teaching with Jon as well. And then eventually he became his partner, and this is how SurfWala came into being 2012.

First Wave Happy Dance


Fun For The Advanced

On the variety of clients Surf Wala gets, Jonathan says, “We get a lot of tourists over here who just want to come down for a couple of days and give it a try; see what it feels like to surf. We get a lot of domestic tourists to do the actual course, you know, studying and understanding surfing and get more of an idea.” SurfWala also has people who stay throughout the season: few locals and some people who really want to learn how to surf and make it a part of their lifestyle. SurfWala usually offers them optionsto volunteer for some time.

Surfwala offers a basic course for a day for Rs 2,500. Jonathan says that for some people that is all they need; they are already quite physically fit and they have an understanding of the ocean and they just need to learn the mechanics of surfing. There are two other three and five-day courses for Rs 6,500 and Rs 11,000, respectively. He says, “These are for the people who really want to learn surfing, and not just tick it off their bucket list,” he adds.

There are currently five surf schools operational in Goa. Has the competition affected Surf Wala? “Yes, but just positively. It has validated us in a way. Moreover, as each surf school operates on a different beach, it does not really affect our clientele. One of our contemporary surf schools began operating a year after us with no knowledge of our existence whatsoever. They had an original idea as well.”

Jonathan calls Goa home. “I used to say as a kid that if there was surfing in Goa, I would never leave. Goa is a good entry level place for surfers. It’s ideal for a beginner. The waves are usually quite gentle – they are really manageable. And as far as India goes, Goa is a place where people are coming down, willing to try new things. Goa is protected by the waters of Lakshadweep and Sri Lanka. This is called something known as the continental shelf, which is an area of seabed around a large land mass where the sea is relatively shallow compared with the open ocean.”

The Crowd Grows

As for the future, SurfWala’s philosophy is looking after people and allowing people to feel a part of what they are doing. Expansion does not fit in very well with their ethos. Jonatham says, “In order to expand, we have to have enough dedicated people to be able to make sure that we can recreate that somewhere else. I think for us, mostly our growth is in learning to teach better, because surfing is not just a sport that you learn; it starts to change your lifestyle – you start to be more aware of your health issues. Surfing takes a lot of energy and when you’re out there in the ocean, you become aware as to how little power you actually have in comparison to the ocean. So, you become concerned about what you are putting in your body and you feel the need to look after yourself.”


About the author

Nirali is a student at a liberal arts university. She is a film enthusiast and an avid reader. She enjoys travelling very much and aspires to make a living out of her interests.

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