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Facing the Waters with Tanvi Jagdish — India’s First Female Standup Paddleboard Surfer

Meet Tanvi Jagdish, India’s first female standup paddleboard surfer to represent the country twice at the World Cup, and a six-time National Champion.

Image: Tanvi Jagdish, India's first female standup paddleboard surfer via Instagram

Tanvi Jagdish is India’s first female Paddleboard Surfer who has represented the country at various prestigious international events, and twice in the World Cup. As a 9-year-old, Tanvi would dream of becoming one of the surfers who inspired her, and today, she inspires many to pursue their dreams. Hailing from Mangalore, Tanvi has always loved the water and is now a six-time national champion in paddleboard surfing. 

Tanvi got candid with Brown to talk about her early days, hardships, and success. Let us dive into an ocean of conversation with Tanvi.

Share with us your experiences from your early days. 

I was 9 years old when my grandfather and cousin took me to a surf school for the first time in Mulki. Since I did not have a proper coach, we used to help at the surf school, so they would, in turn, help us with surfboards, training, and teach basics like standing on a surfboard. I did not know how to swim and had breathing issues. I also had no clue what the sport was about. However, my cousin was my biggest support. He was older and knew swimming. I used to see huge banners and pictures of surfers where I used to go learn surfing. I was fascinated by them and would tell my brother that I wished to be one of them someday. So, despite the breathing issues, I chased my love for the water, and catching my first ever wave was unforgettable. 

Could you share with us the obstacles that you have faced in your journey so far?

I feel it would have been really nice if I had someone to guide me. It has been a wonderful journey; to be the first Indian to go to the Standup Paddling World Cup, winning several medals for the country, and doing well in the Nationals Series, but all of this comes with many hurdles. The most problematic thing is that like most sports, paddleboard surfing is also a male-dominated sport and society has this notion — why does a girl want to play this sport? But the ocean does not care who you are or what gender you belong to. All that matters is how much you enjoy it. Another thing I hear is people taunting me for my body. I am told that a particular shape and size has to be maintained to surf. I have been told that girls are weak and should not surf. 

I have to wear certain clothes to be comfortable while surfing, and I have been called out for the clothes I wear. I have also been ridiculed for my skin colour. Because of being in the water for hours and exposed to the sun, I get tanned, and this skin colour is not well-accepted by society. I am bombarded with questions like ‘who is going to marry you’ or ‘how will you remove this tan’. Society has tried to put me in a box, and I have never been confined to four walls. I don’t react, because it would waste a lot of energy, which could be utilized in training. I have been the six-time national champion and have been to the World Cup twice and once bagged the bronze medal. 

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Another problem that arises is funds. I have met so many people who rejected me on the face, even when I did well at the nationals. I admit the competition is less, but it is strong. So, when I was in class 11th and 12th, I taught surfing to raise funds, and I feel we should get help. Now I am an internationally certified instructor to train students in standup paddling and surfing, so I am independent and do not rely on crowdfunding to represent India. The government does not provide any financial aid. I had to miss the 2018 world cup which was really disheartening. Standing on the podium and listening to the national anthem fills one with pride and missing a World Cup is the worst that could happen to any athlete, and I do not want that for myself now. 

Do you feel the time spent during the procurement of funds could have been utilized in sports training?

Absolutely! There were days when I had to train myself for 6 to 7 hours in the ocean, go to college, and after that, go out and meet people for funds. One has to spend hours surfing on the internet about people who could be potential sponsors and then, they would reject me. I used to come back home and cry and pray to God to show me some hope. There have also been days when people came out and helped me. However, the pain of not getting sponsors and missing out on a World Cup because of that is indescribable.

Image: Tanvi Jagdish loves to spend hours in the water via Instagram

The sport of paddleboard surfing is quite new in the country, and there is a good chance that youngsters like me excel in it, and bring laurels to the country. However, we need adequate training like other world athletes who have access to proper training. 

Why do you think most of the sports industry is still dominated by men? 

This cannot be generalized. It is different for various sports. There are sports where opportunities for girls are more. However, the opposite is more prevalent. In my case, I told my parents of my love for paddleboard surfing about 2 years later. Every girl who wishes to pursue her dreams, not just in sports, has to tell her parents that this is what she loves to do. There may come unwanted situations, but ultimately, they will understand. It is important to tell your parents that this keeps me sane, and I wish to do something with this in my life. My dad has been my superhero. Even my mother has supported me. Initially, it was a rough journey, but for parents, their child’s happiness matters the most, and so my parents backed my dreams as well. 

Exposure counts a lot, and since this sport is new, I have seen many girls coming in now compared to 10-12 years back. I have my surf school — KADAL Centre in Udupi – which I started with my friend Rohan three years ago, and now I see a myriad number of girls coming to ace the sport just because we have a female instructor. They get inspired by a woman who has been to the World Cup, and they dream of the same. Currently, we train more than 1000 girls, and it gives me hope things will change for good in the country. 

Please highlight the difference between surfing and standup paddleboard surfing. 

Surfing is simply lying down on your belly on the board and using your hands in the water. However, standup paddleboard surfing is a sister-sport of surfing where one has to stand on a comparatively large surfboard and use paddles to surf. Both sports are amazing. However, the best part about stand-up paddleboard surfing is that it can be done in any water body; a lake, pond, river, sea, or ocean. There is no limit to this sport as it does not depend on catching waves, and India has 7,500 kilometres of coastline, which is amazing. 

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How do you plan to promote standup paddleboard surfing?

I have a dream to standup paddleboard surf in all the states of India. It was named – All India SUP. I had surfed in some south Indian states but could not complete it because of the unavailability of funds. So it has been on hold, and we are still saving up to put up more surfing camps in other states as well. This is one of the best ways to promote the sport. 

The other I feel are events like the Covelong Surfing Festival, the Indian Open of Surfing, and the India Surf Festival that promote the sport. Other national events and music festivals also contribute to bringing the sport under the spotlight. 

How has the pandemic affected you and your sport?

I would say perspectives matter. There has been a complete shut down of sports activities in the coastal regions, and we do not have students, and it has affected us a lot. But because of the lockdown, I got the time to engage more with my social media profiles and people got to know more about standup paddleboard surfing through the internet. I feel this is good, and when everything will open, more students will come to the academy or more people will know about the sport. The negative part is obviously the sustaining. I have to stay away from water and training, and it becomes difficult for me to sustain myself and my family.  

What differences do you find in the sports facilities abroad and in India?

I would say the sports equipment purchases and shipping is very expensive and abroad, governments support the athletes with all these things. However, in India, we have to do everything on our own. We have to save every single rupee to get new surfing boards and other equipment. We also do not have access to good coaches or international-quality training. I am really thankful to April Zilg who gave me the opportunity to train with her in the United States. The government should come up with initiatives to support sports as India will experience a boom in tourism manifold, with this sport becoming a highlight of adventure sports in India. 

How does it feel to be the first female standup paddleboard surfer and how has your experience been so far in the international events?

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Okay, so let us talk about the World Cup. The Standup Paddling Surfing World Cup is managed by the International Surfing Association, and they have a very special ritual that is performed on the Zero-Day of the World Cup tournament. So, we have to walk with the Indian Flag in our hands and the other team member has to hold the sand that we carry from our countries. All the flags are tied together, and all the representatives who carry the sand put it into a transparent glass box which forms layers of different hues of sand. This ritual signifies the unity that the sport brings in. 

At the 2016 Fiji World Cup, people were extremely delighted to see a girl from India participating. I was competing with the top athletes in the world, and I was emotional as well as nervous. However, I could hear my grandfather’s voice in my head — that I was there to create history and this will be an inspiration for all the girls who want to fulfil their dreams. 

Image: Tanvi has represented India at various international SUP events via Instagram

The average distance that we have to cover in the ocean is 16 to 18 kilometres and while I was paddling, I could see dolphins and turtles joining me on my journey. When I was near the finishing line, I heard people cheer for India, which was a very emotional moment. They all appreciated me, and at 16, I became the only Indian female paddleboard surfer to represent the country at the World Cup and bagged the 16th rank in the world. Then, at the Singapore Ocean Cup in 2018, I brought a bronze medal for the country. Winning 6 nationals consequently feels great. All this is possible because of the training and hard work. 

What message would you like to give to all the girls who want to pursue their dreams?

This is straight from my heart. I would say every girl has her own struggle, and she goes through a lot during her journey. If you have a dream, go get it. Do not get scared of society’s opinions or your failures. If you really want something substantial in your life, and you dream of it, put in a lot of hard work, Nature or the Universe, will show you a way through every hardship. There have been times when I wanted to give up. I had missed a World Cup, sustained injuries, faced harassment, and many other obstacles. But Nature and my determination kept me going. I would tell every girl that you deserve to succeed, to shine, and nobody can stop you from this. So, keep working hard, remain consistent, and most importantly, never give up!

Tanvi is undoubtedly the epitome of inspiration for all of us. Her approach towards life is commendable. So chase your dreams, and you will be one of a kind inspiring others!

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Written By

A travel journalist in making. On a voyage of life full of high and low tides. Love to roast my stress in the oven and share my joys and sorrows with animals. Wish to unravel all the secrets of the world, someday!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Rashmi Singh

    August 9, 2021 at 11:01 am

    Nice article…came to know about a lesser known sports and daughter of India again comes out victorious here too.

  2. Sharda Jaiswal

    August 11, 2021 at 1:02 pm

    Nice article and we all are proud of Tanvi. Thank you for bringing her story to our notice

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