Redefining radical: Ishita Malaviya

Ishita Malaviya is the FIRST female surfer in India.

There are 1.3 Billion people in India and she is the very first female surfer. This is even more impressive when one considers the rampant discrimination women face in many parts of the country:

“A Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll last year ranked India as the world’s fourth most dangerous country for a woman, behind only Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan.

Even though the practice is outlawed, 300,000 to 600,000 female fetuses are aborted every year in India because of the preference for boys, according to a 2011 study by The Lancet. And the discrimination that begins while in the womb continues throughout a girl’s life (CNN).”

At the end of this month I’m off to meet Ishita and cruise around her homelands and waters with a bunch of amazing waterwomen for the Beyond the Surface documentary.  I can’t wait to meet this amazingly audacious young woman and share some waves with her.

“Beyond The Surface” A Documentary Film Project from Dave Homcy on Vimeo.


This interview is from

What was the last thing that made you laugh? 

The other day I saw a huge billboard on a busy street in Manipal, which read, “FLASH MOB! Saturday 4pm! Come Watch!!” I thought it was the funniest thing ever!

Describe your ideal Saturday.

Wake up early and head to the beach. Stop on the way for some chai/ coffee at our local hangout. Surf some fun little peelers till I’m completely surfed out. Have the yummiest fish curry and fried prawns for lunch. Then fall asleep under the palm trees only to wake up in time to watch the sunset. Then head back home for dinner and a movie and finally go to bed.

How would you describe India in one sentence? 

Every day here is an Adventure!

When was your first trip overseas?

My first trip overseas was when I was nine. My aunt was getting married in Canada and I had travelled there for her wedding. I was the flower girl!

How were introduced to surfing?

Six years ago I moved from Mumbai to the small town of Manipal to pursue my higher studies. It was here that my boyfriend Tushar and I discovered an ashram with devotees who were surfers from California! We were super excited to find out that you could actually surf in India and that too just an hour away from where we lived! Obviously we asked the Swamis if they would be willing to teach us. They were stoked that we were so stoked and it wasn’t long before we caught our first waves! I still remember my first wave. I was smiling all the way home from the beach. I knew I would be surfing for the rest of my life.


Do you realize you’re a one in a billion? I mean, you’re the first female surfer in India, that’s pretty unique. How does it make you feel?

It feels pretty unreal and amazing at the same time! Growing up, I never imagined something like this happening to me but I couldn’t be more stoked that this is the path my life has taken!

What are the main challenges facing you surfing in India? 

Surfing in India is still in its infancy and I guess one of the main challenges has been in getting surf equipment here.

Also, not having anyone to watch and learn from. I can only imagine how amazing it would be to grow up in a community where your mom and dad push you into your first wave when you’re only 3 or 4 years old!

What do your parents think about you surfing? 

At first they were quite apprehensive of me surfing. Like any normal Indian parents they wanted me to focus on my studies and not waste my time at the beach. It was only after I pushed them into their first waves that they finally understood why I love it so much.  Ever since then, they’ve been super supportive of me running the surf school and are really proud.

Can you tell us about the shaka surf club. 

Soon after we started surfing, Tushar and I wanted to share our stoke with others and so TheShaka Surf Club was born! Our main goal is to get more people in the water and introduce them to the joy of surfing! With the combination of surfing and water safety education, we hope to dispel fears and help people develop a deeper connection with the ocean.

During my time with you guys you introduced me to the local under-privileged grommets that live by the beach. You’d been teaching them to surf for a few months and there was such a bond with you guys, super inspiring to see. Have you seen a change in them since being introduced to the ocean?

It’s been such a great experience getting to know these kids and bonding with them through a common love for the ocean. Their stoke of surfing is so pure. When you visited us, none of them even knew how to swim! Now they’ve become good swimmers and aren’t afraid of the water anymore. They’ve started surfing “side waves” and I’m pretty sure it won’t be too long before they’ll be surfing better than Tushar and me. They’re hooked! The other day I asked our youngest grom what he liked more- cricket or surfing- and he said Surfing!! Ahh.. That made us so happy!

Tell us about the latest project ‘Beyond the Surface’. What’s your involvement?   

I am honoured and immensely grateful to be part of this epic film project. Beyond The Surface is the first all-female surfing/humanitarian documentary for India. In April I will be travelling through South India along with five other talented female surfers- Crystal Thornburg-Homcy, Liz Clark, Lauren Hill, Emi Koch, and Kate Baldwin. Our goal is to document the ways in which surfing, yoga and ecological creativity are bringing hope and fueling change for local people and the planet. We will make a film of our journey.

Where are your top 3 spots to visit in the world? 

Hawaii, Australia, Africa

Has surfing shaped a new direction for your life? 

Yes, surfing has definitely opened up a whole new world for me. It has helped me put things in perspective and get my priorities right. It made me realize the importance of living my life now, rather than later. Through surfing I’ve had the chance to travel and meet so many wonderful people, who’ve inspired me to follow my passion and live my dreams.

What keeps you busy out of the ocean? 

I find myself trying to find balance both in and out of the water. At the moment we’re busy setting up a Shaka Surf Camp. So lately I’ve taken up carpentry, painting, masonry you name it. When I’m not at the beach I like to enjoy the simpler things in life like spending quality time with Tushar and Marley, practicing yoga, and hanging out with friends.

Who inspires you in life? 

There are so many people who inspire me in life but I guess my biggest source of inspiration have been the people closest to me- My parents who are so hardworking and selfless and who have always told me to follow my heart. My boyfriend Tushar, who always makes me see things in a positive light. My dog Marley, who always inspires me to seek new adventures and the people in my village, who always have the biggest smiles on their faces.

For someone who has never thrown a shaka, can you talk us through what it represents and why surfers tend to use them more than anyone else… 

Shaka means ‘Hang loose’ or ‘take it easy.’ I think surfers tend to throw shakas because we’re good at not taking things too seriously and just going with the flow.

What is the most common stereotype of Indians?

Indians are everywhere!



  1. How exciting! I remember reading an article about a woman who went and surfed Iran. Maybe some local women will take it up there too one day. Hopefully. A seed has been planted at least. Ishita Malaviya! a surfing expeditionary. You legend.

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