Mahab’s stone sculptors now shape surfboards

Mahab’s stone sculptors now shape surfboards

In every other store on the streets leading to the beach in Mamallapuram sit a row or two of Ganeshas, tiny turtles, elephants, reclining Buddhas and scattered stone figurines, all carved by the locals. This ancient sea port, about 50km south of Chennai, famous for its 7th century rock-cut temples, is home to dozens of sculptors who claim to trace their art back to the time of the Pallavas. Now, some sculptors from this tourist town are turning their hand to surfboards, shaping and smoothing foam and fibreglass the way they once sculpted stone.
“I learnt stone carving from my cousin, and would carve pendants and things for some extra cash after I finished fishing for the day,” says Santhosh Moothi, 28, one of the country’s first surfboard shapers.
Santhosh works for Temple Surfboards set up by Australian Dave Hearn, who moved to Chennai about eight years ago as an IT consultant, visited Mahabs, as the town is known among tourists, and stayed on. “Back then, only the foreigners were surfing. The local boys picked it up in a flash and loved it,” says Hearn.
Importing surfboards to India, either to rent or sell to the small but growing tribe of surfers, as well as to give away to the fishermen, was an expensive proposition, so Hearn decided to make them locally and realized that the sculptors’ skills would suit nicely. “They were quick to pick up the craft,” says Hearn.“It’s a lot like working with a block of stone. Only it is foam here,” says Santhosh, who learnt the craft from Australian surfboard shaper Neil Wheeler.
In 2014, Temple Surfboard began selling handcrafted boards with Santhosh as shaper a few other fishermen and sculptors helping out with glassing, finishing and painting the boards. “It’s teamwork,” he says in accented English picked up from talking to tourists. “And whenever we feel like, we take a break and go surfing.”
A sign on the workshop door testifies to this — ‘If the office is closed, we are at lunch or gone surfing’. At the ‘factory’, a single-storey building in one of the many alleys leading down to the beach, the dust on the floor is a few inches thick. Instead of the grey stone dust you see in other sculpting studios in Mahabs, it is as white as snow. The layer is of foam dust flying from a chunk that Santhosh is shaping into a surfboard.
The surfboards are customized depending on the weight and experience of the surfer. Temple’s surfboards retail between Rs 25,000 and Rs 35,000, depending on the size, as against the price of imported surfboards which can set you back by anything from Rs 37,000 to Rs 70,000. “In Australia, surfing is a $3billion industry, and there’s no reason why it can’t grow as large in India and benefit young men like the ones in this factory,” says Hearn.
Santhosh is clear that surfing has changed his life. “I was another guy on the beach before. Now, I’m known as one of the first surfboard shapers in India.”

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