Sampu and Friends: The surfer’s guide to festival organisation

At the heart of India’s first locally organised International Surf Festival was a coming together of spirited folk to a celebration of the small, the beautiful, and the ecologically sensitive.


[Journeys] “If you want to be part of the festival, you have to become friends with me. OK?” At the heart of India’s first locally organised International Surf Festival was a coming together of spirited folk to a celebration of the small, the beautiful, and the ecologically sensitive.

The 1st Indian Surf Festival.

The 1st Indian Surf Festival.

That was Sampu aka Sanjay Samantray speaking on the phone to a company representative who wanted to have a stall at the India Surf festival that was held between 7th and 9th February, 2012, in Puri, Orissa. It clearly led to a long silence at the other end of the line from what I could gather. But that incident told me why the first Surf Festival in India got off to a start without much noise.

The India Surf Festival was not the usual sponsored festival. It was the creation of one man named Sampu and his network of friends, all of them quietly going about their work: surfers, artists, musicians, and the officials of the Orissa Tourism Department.The people at Orissa Tourism, because they were there as friends too.

The heart of a festival

The surprisingly non-commercial attitude can be attributed to the nature of the sport. Surfing is a high energy and demanding sport which is at its infancy in India. We have a 7,500 km long coastline but only a few dozen serious surfers. Sampu was afraid that if the sponsors and the entertainers come in, they would demand a bigger audience and once they invite the crowds to make the event happen, the surfers would be lost in the human wave. That’s one wave he could not risk taming.

Since it was the first time such an event was being conceived, he was not sure about the surfing experience. He relied solely on his friends to organise the festival. And it worked like magic. Finally, here was something that was small, beautiful and sensitive to the earth.

Sampu and the Surfing Yogis

ISF was the creation of one man named Sampu and his network of friends, all of them quietly going about their work: surfers, artists, musicians, and the officials of the Orissa Tourism Department.

At a 20-minute walk from a protected beach with surf, Sampu, the lone ranger, runs a tiny restaurant and a resort with a few rooms and surfboards. In fact, his resort is called Rangers. The Director of Orissa Tourism thought that the Surf festival was not a good idea. But then again, he had nothing to loose, and agreed to play along.

The surfers who hang out with Sampu are called Surfing Yogis. There’s usually someone from around the world present at Rangers at any given time of the year. Many of them came back last week to be part of the festival. To surf, set up stage, decorate the place, sun around and spread the word – as only friends would.

I was there as a friend too. I met Sampu first in some chat room over a decade back. However, I only surf the net. He wanted me to come so that I could document what was happening and since I had never met him before, I thought this could be the best reason to go meet him and click some pictures.

Puri_SurfFestival

ISF was the creation of one man named Sampu and his network of friends, all of them quietly going about their work: surfers, artists, musicians, and the officials of the Orissa Tourism Department.

Hands and minds come first, everything else comes next

Sampu is not the pioneer of surfing in India. He is not its main propeller of growth either. That title belongs to a group in Karnataka called the Surfin’ Swamis, young men who surf out of a remote beach outside Mangalore.

At the ISF, surfers from all over India got together and chalked out plans for taking the recently formed Surfing Federation of India to new heights by setting standards for the sport in India. Necessary tasks like setting up of state groups, the setting up of of safety standards, etc. It was an event that was giving shape or birth of a new sport in India.

If they succeed, you will see a lot more surfing and surfers in India. The festival was a beautiful exercise in paying it forward.

Puri_SurfFestival

The festival was a beautiful exercise in paying it forward.

Especially in what the Tamil Nadu boys call the Bay of Life, south of Chennai up to Pondicherry, Kovalam in Kerala and Chennai, Mulki and Gokarna in Karnataka.

The festival was a beautiful exercise in paying it forward. A team of art directors, artists and volunteers from Mumbai decorated the whole place in an eco-friendly manner. Musicians from Mumbai and Israel came in to add magic every evening, and Orissa Tourism sent in a troupe of traditional dancers as their contribution.

Orissa Tourism also helped procure the Lotus Resort, run by the Vittal Kamat Group, to host the event.

The unofficial-official media partner was ‘Broken Scooter’ – a modest online magazine run by students from Bhubaneshwar. And then, there were the local boys. Led by Sampu the man himself, and the first local surfer boy called Prathap, who brought the whole event together. Surfers flew in from Hawaii, California, Australia, England, Switzerland, Austria, Israel and Sri Lanka, besides the local lads.

So yes, it should rightfully be called an International Festival. A small meeting of surfers that finally became a fitting celebration of the sport. It was much larger than Sampu or anyone expected.

Surfing back to nature

Besides being friends with Sampu, people who wanted to be part of the festival were not allowed to print their logos on plastic or flex. All signage and decorations where made out of cloth or wood and handpainted.

At the end of the festival, a Puri-based local organisation called Barefoot combed the entire beach and restored it to the crabs and other living organisms, the original inhabitants.

Incidentally, this stretch of beach is protected and sees very little footprints on sand. This also means that the beach is completely alive through day and night. Hundreds of little animate creatures are always found on the beach. A sight forgotten in most other beaches across India.

The next time you organise an event or festival, maybe you can try what Sampu and friends tried. Bring in your circle of friends. Revel in the small, the simple and the beautiful. Soak in the spirit of things. And be a friend of nature.

Follow India Surf Festival on their Facebook page for more updates.

All pics courtesy MS Gopal

MS Gopal is a Mumbai-based photographer and writer. He blogs at the very popular Mumbai Paused and Which Main? What Cross? – a photoblog on Bangalore.

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gopal MS is a Mumbai based blogger and advertising copywriter. He documents Mumbai streets at www.mumbaipaused,com more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gopal MS is a Mumbai based blogger and advertising copywriter. He documents Mumbai streets at www.mumbaipaused,com more

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  • Mumbai Paused

    Correction: The Surfing Swamis are not from the Fishermen Community. I’m extremely sorry for the mistake in the story. 

  • Beautifully written article about a very beautiful happening … thanks to all … most inspiring * 

  • Supinireland

    Lovely, thank you for this lovely article, thank you Carlyn for linking it to me!  It has made me very happy to read!  Thank you Neptune for your waters!

  • Surgingyogis

    Gopal..this article is providing so much awarness to create than impact for festival people..thank you my friend for spreading the idea to  care universe.