Surf’s up! Get ready for the Covelong Surf Music Yoga Festival
We’re tempted to call it Chennai’s own Woodstock! In a mere five years, the Covelong Surf, Music and Yoga Festival has gained massive popularity, turning the Kovalam beachfront into a favoured spot for surfers from across the world, and making the city’s coastline a buzzing, rocking hotspot for cultural exchanges, spiritual communions and some good old-fashioned by-the-beach simmering down with choice sea food and live open-deck music sets laid out beside a bustling flea market. Oh, and don’t forget the surfing contest!
Arun Vasu, CMD, TT Group, is in some way the Max B Yasgur of this whole affair, offering up the place for the festival, much like the American farmer who agreed to host the Woodstock Music and Art Fair on his farm in Bethel, New York, all those years back in 1969. The hangout vibes here aren’t too different — and a lot cleaner, and healthier. Vasu, along with principal surf teacher Murthy Megavan, and music producer and yoga teacher Yotam Agam, have bigger plans for their pet project — of making it the most happening yoga and surfing festival around. With a week to go for its fifth edition, we got the three partners to let us in on their vision — with the promise of a rose-tinted view over the seashore. August 25-27. At Kovalam.
The Covelong Festival has changed the life of all the locals in Kovalam village. Before the festival began, there were hardly any tourists who stopped by here, as the place was remote and did not have a good reputation. Over the years, thanks to the improvement in the surfing culture and the success of the festival, Kovalam is getting visitors by the drove, mostly on weekends.
Last year, the festival was on the beach, but this year, we have expanded it to the nearby fishermen’s village, with more yogashalas than before. One of the new yogashalas will be inside the village, where the participants will be instructed by one of the villagers. I hope this year we see more than 20,000 visitors — that’s 5,000 more than last year.
Planning such a big event starts as early as February, when we select the dates; while, along the course of planning, Arun and Yotam take up most of the big tasks, such as bringing in the sponsors and curating the performance and workshop line-up. Without them there wouldn’t be any festival, to be honest. I am just a simple fisherman-turned-surfer, but they are the main guys! And it is not easy for them at all.
Being the one who brings in the sponsors, Arun has his task cut out. While some of them are generous, there are others who have doubts regarding the relevance and motive of this festival. Yotam, on the other hand, brings the artistes down and controls the budget (around `30-50 lakh) and the logistics. They talk about the improvement of the village and its tourism potential when approaching the sponsors and the artistes.
As for me, the festival has given me opportunities to connect with surfers from around the globe. In turn, I churn out young champions from amongst the local boys who participate in the festival, and get them ready for international surfing and paddleboarding championships. My life, prior to the festival, comprised only fishing. But now, I am happy that I meet people from across the globe and bring down trainers from as far as Bali. For someone like me, who had a difficult childhood, dropped out of school after sixth standard and has been fishing ever since, my current way of life is unprecedented for me.
Also, the fishermen and their families set up stalls on the beach, selling fried fish and juices, hosting games like balloon shooting and showcasing handmade crafts and jewellery. This can all be credited to the crowds that come to the beach, a ripple effect of the festival itself. Moving forward, one of my biggest dreams is to set up a surfboard museum in Covelong, when I am 60 perhaps. Till then, I hope I keep surfing!
I first met Murthy through Yotam, who told me, “There is a fisherman who has a dream of starting a surf school”. The next day, I met Murthy, and in the first 10 minutes itself I was completely imp-ressed by the concept. What really appealed to me was that he never spoke about making money or what the festival will do for him. Instead, he explain-ed how surfing helped him in life, especially after suffering losses in the tsunami, and he thought he could generate a similar focus towards the sport among the village kids, as many of them faced a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol.
I was very taken by that, and so we rented a small house in the village (not where we are at present) and started the Surf School with around 15 surfboards. The idea of the festival, however, came up the very next year, when we thought of organising a surfing competition that will highlight the school. We later added music and yoga to reduce the potential boredom among visitors who would continuously watch surfers bobbing in the water!
I have been into watersports for the last 35 years, and I’ve also run a few watersport centres, but none of them have come close to how the Covelong Surf Point has come up. The festival has also benefited Kovalam to a great extent. And whatever we do goes back into the village through various social initiatives such as health camps and alcohol-drug awareness programmes; we also educate around 50 kids in the village.
However, despite surfing taking precedence priority-wise, we do try to strike a balance by promoting all the three primary aspects of this festival. So those who come to just experience the music and yoga, are pleased to see the fantastic following that surfing has generated here.
But that said, what impresses everybody, including the likes of Matthew Hayden and Jonty Rhodes, is the story of Murthy, because nowhere in India do we have a village with 200 surfers. I might be setting up more such schools across the country in the future, but I don’t know if I will get anybody as unselfish and charismatic as Murthy. Only time will tell!
What I am trying to create here is a more of an experience rather than a sequence of performances and workshops. Hence, I have curated a fairly large and wide range of genres of music and yoga practices that can be performed over three days. Being a music producer myself, I do have a fairly large list of contacts in the music industry that I try to utilise for the festival by bringing in as many musicians as I can. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work the way we want, as sometimes it becomes very difficult to pay high fees, since the more famous our target artiste is, the higher the fees. In fact, whatever money we raise, and we raise a good amount, we mostly use it to build shade! It’s not like we are we are working in the mountains, we are in Chennai!
The biggest names this time are Divine and Raghu Dixit who will perform on Sunday. On Saturday, we have Bemet from Israel. Among the yoga facilitators, we have 97-year-old Nanammal from Coimbatore. This approach towards smaller cities like Coimbatore is in line with my future vision to see the festival expand more into the village and smaller cities. I also want it to develop into an ideal model for a body-mind-spirit festival (on the lines of Wanderlust festivals) in India, a rarity in the country. After all, it is the human aspect that matters, which has been the key between Arun, Murthy and me — the friendship and trust that we have built over the years.
As the inaugural surf competitions continue across three days, there will also be talks and workshops, meditation and yoga sessions, music performances and other activities to sign up for. Here’s our pick. Details: covelongpoint.com/festival/
The music acts start with a performance by Maalavika Manoj, the Mumbai-based independent musician (and vocalist for the former band Bass-in-Bridge), who released her five-track EP Rush this January. Later on the same day, city-based violinist Karthick Iyer will deliver a fusion performance. And for the finale, The Raghu Dixit Project (in pic) will take over the Beach Stage with their multilingual folk tunes. 4.30 pm on Saturday and 8 pm on Sunday, respectively.
Joining former cricketer Jonty Rhodes (in pic) on the celeb list is Indian Test and CSK star Murali Vijay, along with South Indian actors like Arya, Jeeva and Veera. The chief guest for the event is C Sylendra Babu, the Additional Director General of Police (Coastal Security).
Big band theory
The stage is set for bands like Mumbai-based five-piece ska reggae dub troupe The Fanculos. They will be accompanied by city-based Skrat (in pic) and Orlando & Medium Rare Band, who will rock the beach with their alternative and retro music. At Beach Stage. Saturday & Sunday. 5 pm & 5.30 pm onwards, respectively.
Kalari way ahead
Learn the basics of the ancient martial art defence form kalaripayattu from Kerala-based exponent Raam Kumar. Elsewhere, those interested in designing kolams can learn a trick or two from the village women who will gather for a workshop. There will also be a contest for those who sign up for the workshop. At Aerial Space. Sunday. 2 pm and 3.30 pm onwards, respectively.
Mumbai-based rapper Vivian Fernandes, who goes by the stage name Divine (in pic), will deliver the penultimate performance on Sunday night. Will he perform tracks from his upcoming debut album? Find out at the Beach Stage. 7 pm onwards.
Kuthu to the chase
Israeli electronic phenomenon Hod Moshonov, better known as Bemet (in pic), will end his India tour at Covelong Point. The 25-year-old recently gave us a sample of his sonic experiments at the festival when he posted a video on his Facebook page playing electronic music fused with kuthu beats! Saturday. 8 pm.
Samanta Duggal (in pic), the founder of one of the country’s earliest boutique yoga studios, Yoga Sutra, will share her knowledge about Thai yoga massage. With an experience in yoga, jazz and bharatanatyam that spans over 20 years, she will host her workshop at Quiet Gardens. Friday. 4 pm to 5.30 pm. Entry at `1,500.
Do not miss the performance by Covelong Point Surf Boys, who will dance to tribal tunes dressed in their distinctive attire. Saturday. 6.30 pm onwards.
The festival has arranged for accommodation in various hotels and homestays, with discounted rates that include complementary breakfast and other amenities. Take your pick from Hotel Lee Crystal, Novotel Sipcot, Ibis Sipcot and Soukya Homestays. Rates from around `2,000, plus taxes. Details: covelongpoint.com