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TANVI JAGADISH: RIDING THE CREST

Defying age, traditions and taboo, Tanvi Jagadish, from the Karnataka coast, burst into international surfing scene, making India proud. What Tanvi has achieved is phenomenal by any yardstick. 19 now, she is a six-time SUP champion in India, has represented India in two World Cups, and won three bronze medals in international events.

The year was 2016. I was in Fiji at the ISA Stand-Up Paddling World Championship where I spotted 26 different flags in front of me and that’s when it hit me. My dream of representing the country had finally come true. It was time for my first ever international race. The whistle blew and the race began.

Hello everyone, I am Tanvi Jagadish, a professional Stand-Up Paddler and Surfer. When I introduce myself to people this way, the first question is, “What is that?” It is a sport…surfing. And the very next retort is, “You’re a girl.” (Take a deep breath) In the days of my early childhood, my dad would always take me to the beach on Sundays. It was his retreat and my only enjoyment. But something about the waves always clung on to me. In the end, he would have a hard time pulling me out of the water. If only he knew back then, the sea and I were inseparable. I started surfing when I was 10 years old. My grandfather used to take my cousin and me to a “surf ashram” where we would learn to meditate, do yoga, swim and surf. He never told my parents though, they would unnecessarily worry.

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The days my grandfather would take me to surf…those days were the best days of my life. It was like heaven, seriously. Surfing was not just a sport to me. It was freedom, (it still is freedom), an expression that defined my special bond with Mother Ocean. I had severe breathing problems when I was a kid, and funnily, antibiotics never seemed to work on me; you might find it hard to believe but the one thing that actually saved me from those problems was the sea. The saltwater apparently, worked out. The beach was my cure!

But this also had its downsides. My mother found out about my secret classes, and the next moment I find myself at home, with a textbook by my side, and no surfboard. I was devastated. Three years, yes, three years, I tried convincing my parents to let me find the water again. The thing about all Indian parents is that their love for their child’s security often blinds them to their child’s desires. My parents were no different, and this is understandable. But the words “You’re a girl” never let me settle for less. My desire to get back to the ocean always preceded any consolation they offered. And so…I won!

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I was back in the ashram, and back at the sea, and this was the beginning of my journey to become India’s first Stand-Up Paddler. Wait…what is this “Stand-Up Paddling”?

Surfing is riding waves with a surfboard and SUP is a sister sport of surfing where we use a bigger surfboard and instead of hands - a paddle - to move across the water. Surfing has a general technique where you paddle, catch the wave and ride it, this technique may sound boring but it is a new experience each time. SUP can be done on any water body – rivers, lakes and oceans and all the way to riding a wave. People see the world from the land, on firm ground; but we stand-up paddlers see it from the waters, on no ground, where the ocean is our definition of a playground. Once I catch a wave, the ocean does the rest and I feel like I am ON TOP OF THIS WORLD.

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Surfing is one of the oldest sports on the planet, and SUP is one of the fastest-growing, but I am sure you are hearing it for the first time. Though India has a coastline of 7,500km, many of us go abroad to learn surfing. When it was first introduced in our country, 80% of the enrollees were foreigners. In our country, we face a tough situation of bringing a new sport into the limelight and an even tougher task of finding people who want to pursue this as a career. There are many reasons for this, and we can go on and on about it. But now, we need more solutions.

Awareness is the key to developing any new sport. A person must know that SUP exists. Surfing festivals being conducted throughout the country is raising the bar for the development of unique sports such as SUP.

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Next comes knowledge, only when we know what the sport is, what its rules are, is when we can appreciate its existence. When we look at other sports which are under-appreciated in our country - like kabaddi, hockey, and martial arts like kalaripayattu - the main reason these wonderful sports are dying is because of lack of knowledge or the awareness of their existence. Finally, comes Experience, no sport can be truly loved without actually experiencing it. I encourage everyone In India, let us first begin with the key, awareness, and gradually move up the ladder.

Today, the number of people who get enrolled have greatly increased and we now have more than 50% participation in surfing from Indians on our own soil. All this is great to look at; the stats are improving. But even today, I get asked, “Why are you wasting time practising a boy’s sport?” Trust me, the hurt is real. I believe that the ocean is for all. Mother Ocean treats all the same, and age is just a number to her. All that mattered to me was proving to myself that these inhibitions that people assumed do not distract me from my goals. The waters helped me improve my physical and mental strength, and also taught me a very important value of life: Patience. Waiting for the set waves to arrive and riding on the right one will you make restless initially, but Mother Ocean has her own way of teaching her children.

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Awareness, knowledge and experience eventually made me reach the beautiful beaches of Fiji Islands after winning 5 consecutive nationals. I spent every moment revising the rules mentioned in the International Standard for SUP. We were supposed to take sand from our respective countries and pour it in a glass box. The beautiful, colourful layers of sand in the box was a symbolisation of unity which this sport represents.

I knew that my training had finally paid off when the whistle at the “ISA Stand up paddling World Championship” blew off. I closed my eyes and all of these past experiences flashed back. I clenched onto my paddle tighter and this marked the beginning of the most precious moment of my life. My grandfather’s voice was playing in my head “Just do it Tanvi! Do It!” and I began paddling on the 18-km stretch from cloudbreak to Musket Cove island. There were these little floating objects or buoys as they are called, to guide the participants through the course. Each passing buoy reminded me of the people who had believed in me and coached me back in India.

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The future of this young sport lies with our generation and I want to play an active role in developing SUP. Each one of you sitting there at least once must experience the ocean the way I have. It is my deep desire to build a team for this sport and help them get to the grandest stage of them all, the Olympics.

Now I am 19 years old, I have represented India in two SUP world championship, winner of 2018 grom of the year, won bronze medal in 2018 Asian Cup in Singapore, TEDX speaker, six-time SUP national Champion and founder of KADAL Centre for SUP SURF YOGA. It has been a huge dream of mine to run SUP & surf school, a girl being a head coach in the surf school? Possible. It feels very good to know that I inspire many people out there. And to all the girls I will always say, all the stereotype, problems, harassment, male dominance and if we make a list there are a lot! But all these makes us more focused on our goals and make us strong ??

I have a very unique relationship with Mother Ocean because it has cured me and made me a strong woman representing India in Stand Up Paddling World Cup and international SUP Series. Coming from a small village where everyone had problem that a girls surfing/ Stand Up paddling with surf shorts and rash guard was just out of box and the people always put me down that this sport can be done by boys only, but I always believed ocean has no problem with how old you are or what gender you are! Ocean empowers me every day, motivates me to chase my dreams and work hard towards my goals in life.

I will conclude the article with a quote.

    "It is said that girls with dreams become women with vision. May we empower each other to carry out such vision — because it isn't enough to simply talk about equality. One must believe it. And it isn't enough to simply believe in it. One must work at it. Let us work at it. Together. Starting now." - Meghan Markle

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