I'M STILL ALIVE
That's the typical reaction when you're riding a wave, you duck under and pop out the other side. We dive into the thrilling, dangerous and supremely cool sport of surfing... in Coxs Bazaar, Bangladesh. See page 6 for a full story.
TAMING THE BLUE GREEN MONSTER
Whenever we think of surfing, the image in our heads is invariably that from distant shores. Hot, tanned people on surfboards tackling the wild waves while still managing to have perfect hair (or something like that). It's something even the most boring amongst us has secretly dreamed of doing. While the perfect hair part might be a reach, the rest of it is still pretty doable. And you don't need to fly off to Bondi or Hawaii to do this. It can be done right here in our backyard. RS caught up with a real life 'surfer dude' from Cox's Bazaar and asked him about the surfing scene in our country. Kamrul Hassan, a local, was brought up on the beaches of Cox's Bazaar doing odd-jobs.He took up surfing as a hobby. He is now a regular surfer and part of Cox's Bazaar Life Saving and Surfing Club (Surfing Tigers' Club). For him, like many others, surfing was a gradual and inevitable step forward and for a country that is still oblivious to the sport, we seem to have quite a few enthusiasts. “Every day it's becoming clearer to me that everyone except Bangladeshis know about surfing. We have had surfers from all around the world visit us and compared to theirs, our numbers here are quite modest,” Kamrul says.
No matter what profession or hobby you pick, everyone has that 'one' moment when they suddenly realize, this is it. For Kamrul it came when one day when he saw a few Hawaiians and our very own famed surfer Zafar Alam heading to the sea with their surfboards. Transfixed, he followed them all the way into the water until he came to his senses and saw just how deep he had waded in. By then, the surfers were busy riding waves and Kamrul had already decided that he was going to surf. After managing to get his hands on a boogie board, Kamrul taught himself to mimic the surfers. It certainly wasn't easy and he had to contend with many embarrassing face-plants before he finally got it right. He then moved on to long boards and finally, could take part in the impromptu competitions that the other surfers held.
As a country, we have been blessed with the longest natural sea beach in the world and it seems we would rather pollute it and let it go to waste than make full use of it. “It's baffling really,” continues Kamrul, “We have the best possible conditions in the world for people to learn surfing and yet there are no takers. In other parts of the world, they have to contend with monstrous waves and sometimes even sharks but we have none of that here. It's ideal for anyone to just pick a surfboard up and start riding the waves.”
His time with the Surfing Tigers has taught him many things, not least the fact that surfers don't command the same respect here. “For everyone here, surfing is a hobby and it's difficult to take it far more seriously. We have very little recognition and the sport is treated like just another prop on the beach. It's not and we're trying our best to show people that.” The Surfing Tigers' Club are pioneers in providing some form of structure to the sport. Their group consists of around 40 members and they have successfully organised several international surfing tournaments in Cox's Bazaar, working in tandem with Surfing the Nations, an international non-profit organization working to improve lives through surfing.
This brings us to the most important question, why surf? To this Kamrul laughs and says, “It's like riding a bike. You won't know how fun it is until you've tried it. From my perspective, surfing calms me and teaches me humility. There's nothing more awesome and beautiful than the ocean, and being a part of it can be really humbling.” His words bring forward images of the mighty ocean and how, even in our most controlled moment, she always has the upper hand. While that bit of imagery can be a bit overwhelming, we can certainly dream of one day being one with the waves.
As the conversation edges towards the future of the sport, Kamrul becomes more and more despondent. In truth, the fortune of surfers hasn't changed much since Zafar Alam's much publicized success in Hawaii and the release of a documentary based on his life, 'Gum for My Boat'. International interest might have increased but that's about as far as it went. “We have to finance and organize everything without much help. The government doesn't even recognize surfing as a sport so we don't get any support from them; we hope this changes. But above all, we need people; more people to come here and just surf. We will teach them as best we can so that everyone can stand and take notice of just how far we've come on our own.”
When asked about the facilities, the club officials said that they had both male and female surfers available to teach interested people, and that members were also trained lifeguards so any worries over safety could be dispelled.
After listening to Kamrul's honest account, it becomes pretty clear how under-utilised so much of the country is when it comes to sports. We are all quite adept at moaning about the ever disappearing open spaces around Dhaka and how our chances at international sporting events are hampered because of that, but provided with the biggest facility imaginable, that too by Mother Nature, we simply do nothing about it. Encouraging people to take part in surfing has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks faced by the Surfing Tigers' Club and it's not like they're asking a great favour from us all. Wouldn't you one day like to carry your surfboard out into the waters of the Bay of Bengal and show off some dazzling surf moves? Wouldn't hurt to try, now would it? Besides you get to hang out with cool surfer dudes and surfer gals. And if my interviews with them are anything to go by, they do follow their stereotype of being 'chilled out' all the time. Interested people can head on down to Laboni beach and just ask locals to point the way to the Surfing Tigers'. And remember: a bad day surfin' is better than a good day workin'.