Mahabs – The most infamous surf village

Mahabs surfer and skater kids

In middle of switching jobs, I took sometime off to go to a quiet, non touristy beach village. I wanted to spend my time relaxing, writing and practice skating. I wanted to be far far away from the touristy vibe of the Indian beach towns and without much research, I chose to go to Mahabalipuram. I had very little time anyway to invest my time in research anyway. All I wanted was a beach, fresh fish and a nice place to sleep, who needs research for that. With this confidence, I booked my flight to Chennai, pre-booked a few days of stay at a guesthouse by the name of Daphne, and there I was in the dark of the night when the entire town had slept. I couldn’t find the Daphne and there was no help around either. My Ola driver took it upon himself to find the guesthouse by waking up people in the night and asking them for directions. I was just stuck between my luggage in the backseat of the cab. I travelled with a lot of stuff this time. After-all the plan was practically to just live there for a few weeks, carried my laptop, books, my friend’s longboard, helmet, a didgeridoo and a few clothes as well. Things were arranged in a criss-cross manner in the cab and it was impossible for me to move. I checked in to Daphne. The entrance was through a small door, but as you get inside, it looked like a hundred year old house with a big courtyard in the middle full of palms and flowers and a long old swing. It looked beautiful in the dark and even more so in the morning when it revealed itself in the sunlight. Two story tall, old Tamil style villa, painted in white, covered with pink bougainvillea and hundreds of plants. It felt like a sanctury. Perfect place to stay.

I ventured out to explore the village, the famous Mahabalipuram temple, the streets and beaches. I was surprised to find the beaches in a very vary very dirty condition, worst that I have ever experienced. First of all there are buildings on the beach. 2-3 story illegal constructed ugly looking guesthouses (very highly prices too, an average of Rs. 1500 a day for a shady sea view room). Secondly, there are  piles of garbage on the beach outside these guesthouses, since most of them just dump their rubbish on the beach, also there is no initiative from the government when it comes to waste management. The main temple beach that seemed quite clean and fabulous at first, was full of plastic waste as you walk further and further away. The entire beach was covered with plastic and it glittered in the evening sun as if it had become the jewel this forsaken beach. Thirdly and the most disgusting of all was that there were human faces all over the beach on the waterline in the morning. Although it’s a fisherman beach and is usually very populated with boats and nets which was fine with me,, but this was horrible. These fisherman they practically live on the beach, and most of them work in shacks as waiters and some own them too.  I could not even take a peaceful walk on the beach let alone enjoy the east coast sunrise.

I was in a fuss and I knew I had made a big mistake by coming to Mahabalipuram. It was dirty, stay was expensive (more expensive than other beach towns), fish was expensive too, but there were almost no tourists. This is probably the reason why there are no tourists there anymore. Having spent two days there, I decided to ditch the beach completely and explore the town instead and would skate early in the morning. To my surprise, the town was completely opposite and beautiful. Full of temples and stone workshops and shops selling beautiful statues carved out of the famous black rock indigenous to Mahabalipuram. The craftsmanship is spectacular. The food was best I’ve ever had and it was really cheap as well. Local joints like Sri Anand Bhavan & Mammla bhavan served food all day and special thalis during lunch and dinner. It’s usually full of local people and some foreigners who have been living in Mahabalipuram since a while. I ended up going there every single day. They were both walking distance from Daphne. The thalis are to die for. Really. I ended up spending more time back at Daphne writing and would only step out for food until the day I met Aine Edwards. 

Friends of Mahabs

Aine is a friend of my flatmate in Delhi

Aine Edwards

We spent a nice afternoon together and since then we kept meeting everyday, sometimes twice in a day. Aine is a producer and project manager/facilitator (as she says) I got to know that she’s also the manager and Aunt to @Kamalitheskatergirl. 

Before coming to Mahabalipuram, I have heard about this fierce little 8 year old girl named Kamali who is the youngest girl in India to take up skateboarding. She started skating when she was just three years old. In a way, skating comes more naturally to her than walking. I finally got to meet Kamili at her home with Aine.

Mahabalipuram to Mahabs.

I was learning more and more about this little fisherman village and there is more than meets the eye. You see, this entire village is full of kids and adults who grew up surfing and skating. They learnt to surf before they learnt to fish. Mahabs is famous for its surf since decades and used to be flooded with surfers from all across the world. More than 100 boys from that village are experienced surfers and skaters and Kamili is the only girl among those 100 boys. 

Hers is a story truly inspiring as this little girl ended up becoming the face of Vans Global campaign to promote skateboarding for girls inspired by Girl Skate India which was founded by Atita Verghese – the acclaimed skateboarder and Vans ambassador.

Kamali by Vans

Holystoked made a little Mahabs skatepark for Kamili and for the local skater boys. It’s right outside her house.

Aine tells me of the day when Kamili met the American legendary skateboarder Jamie Thomas three years back while he was visiting Mahabs for a commercial shoot. Jamie was stunned to meet this little rockstar and postponed his shoot to teach her instead. 

I get to meet a lot of kids who skate here with Kamali. Some of them come to learn from her, some teach her. It’s like a storm taking over the skate-park when these kids are on their wheels. One of such kids is Kevin. He’s always covered with all sorts of protective gear when he skates. His father feels relaxed when he drops him off to skatepark if he skates with all  this protective gear he explains. Then there is Kamali’s brother who’s a fast learner. Mani, another fierce surfer from the community who proudly flaunts his surfing skills on concrete as well. Kamali’s mother tries to maintain a balance between her academic and skate life. This little girl just stands by and watches Kamili rock those wheels as she and all the other village girls are not allowed to skate by their families while the boys of the same families are surfers. Kamili’s mother has to face a lot go criticism from the local community for allowing her little girl to skate with the boys but Sugati (Kamali’s mother) is a strong, independent, single mother and doesn’t let that affect Kamali in anyways. She believes in her little girl and wishes for her to reach the sky.  

As Mahabs unveils itself to me one layer at a time, I had started to like this place despite all the filth that surrounds it. Literally. 

Jamie Thomas left his skateboard for her as a gift.
This photo he took of Kamali, got global recognition.

Mahabs. 

Theres a beautiful, lovely and homely Sandy Bottom Cafe and Mumu surf school right at the beach front run by the lovely couple Anna and Mumu. Anna’s an artist and an amazing chef while Mumu is one of the best surfers of the country. Extremely conscious about he environment, they clean up the beach every single day. You can join them early in the morning and give a hand yourself or better trade all the trash for some good coffee. Anna makes the world’s most amazing fruit muesli. Her preparation is so healthy and something that I carried with me back home. The cafe and the school looks really beautiful. They’ve made every single thing that you see in there, including the walls, the doors, the furniture, all the pretty little things and a very useful map graffiti of Mahabs marked with their favourite spots. 

Testing the Mahabs Surfing

I had no intentions of attempting to surf in Mahabs or anywhere else at this point of time simply because I don’t consider myself physically fit to battle and paddle through the fierce bay of bengal. It’s a sport that demands a lot of shoulder and core strength. And I was in no mood to get my body bruised or my muscles cramped but Aine, who is a surfer herself, insisted that all the women go surfing as it was 8th March, the international women’s day. So Anna, Aine and I went into the Mahabs water. It wasn’t very difficult for me to get convinced as it was the first time I was stepping into the sea since I had arrived in Mahabs. The sea here has really strong currents and its not at all advisable to get into the water here all alone. The beach is spic and span towards the rockies (in front of Mumu’s) and in the opposite end towards the Radisson hotel) Mahabs currents are infamous to challenge some really strong swimmers and they’ve had a difficulty coming back to the shore. This is the reason why will not see people in the water. This is the reason why I haven’t been to the sea myself. And this is the reason that I did not say no to the opportunity of spending some sea time. While my ladies had a great time carving and surfing the waves, I had enjoyed sitting on top of my board or struggling to be on top of my board. But I did enjoy paddling through the currents and attempting to stand up and surf as well. It’s women’s day. Surfing with these amazing ladies, listening to their amazing stories, meeting Kamali and her mother Sugati and learning about their lives and struggles. Can there be a more perfect day than this?

Skating shenanigans over the weekend. 

We planned to spend the weekend in Covelong where Aine spends half her time working. This house is no ordinary house and is exactly opposite of her house in Mahabs. (Yes, she had two houses then). One was a cute little beach house with sea views and moist air and the other – a high end luxury 4 bedroom, furnished American style villa in Covelong. It has a pool, new roads to skate on and Covelong beach close by. It’s here that I had most fun long-boarding before I injured my leg. Kamali came up with the idea of holding hands and skate Exchanging our boards, racing on the streets, and learning simple tricks was one thing but this just spun me out of control and scraped my leg and foot on the newly paved mortar road. We rushed back to the house and I was sitting in the garden analysing the wounds, almost teary eyed, I saw Kamali turn into an adult instantly. She’s comforting by cleaning my wounds with cold water and telling me about her first fall and the scars she earned after each fall. I was almost felling better but I couldn’t skate or swim after that. I spent the remainder of my days limping in Mahabs. We spent the next day in Radisson. They have an extremely long canal kind of pool that links to a huge infinity pool that both of them could not resist. I just enjoyed the views. 

Mahabs under my skin

I was nearing the end of my trip and decided to dedicate the remaining days working out of Daphne. This place has a great vibe and I loved spending my days here more than anything. Right outside Daphne, there’s a small eatery run by a local man and his wife. They make really homely dosas and the most amazing coffee in the town. It became my spot from day one itself. Every time I leave from or come back to Daphne, I would stop there to have a coffee and a nice chat with the man. They’re amazing people and have also helped my dress my wound multiple times. I am born with soft feet, and it’s almost every single time that I am at a beach, I end up getting swollen feet because the sand gets under my skin through small cuts and bruises that I get from spending a lot of time in water. It has almost become a routine for me to find a local clinic/nurse to cut sand out of my feet and dress it with a lot of antiseptic creams and bandages. But these people, they put some herbs, after cutting the sand out of my feet with a knife and within hours, my feet were fine. 

It’s time to go and I had to pack. I had been extra cautious about what I buy from the market this time and I ensured I don’t but anything packed in plastic. Except for one bottle of coke. I refilled my water bottle from the kitchen, used my bag to carry things, wrapped souvenirs that I bought in newspaper bags and carried my plastic back with me and it feels great. One must travel with this motto. Eat local, shop local, reuse/recycle, re-fill bottles and leave only your footprints and nothing else. It’s not very difficult to achieve, you just have to be conscious about your habits. Besides, I didn’t want my empty coke bottle to end up on the beach. I tried to tweet about the garbage situation to Tamil Nadu tourism, or the tourism minister but surprisingly none of them are there on social media. Mahabs left a lasting impression on me. But now when I am back, I still wonder if I would like to go back there? I am not sure. 


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