It was 3pm on a Friday. The air was hot and salty, and Fisherman Colony, a seaside village near Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, was baking in the afternoon sun. Seemingly oblivious to the heat, a few children are skateboarding on a quirky new skating ramp set up in the street. Among them was an arresting sight – a small girl effortlessly navigating the concrete slopes of the ramp, setting herself apart from the rest.
With her short hair tied up and two front teeth still taking shape, 8-year-old Kamali Moorthy grins as she drops into the ramp from the granite coping and rolls down the slopes, as if she was born to do so. And this is indeed the common belief among many people, from tourists to the fisher folk, who adore Kamali, the only girl skateboarder and surfer in the hamlet.
“Was she born with a skateboard?” asks Steffano Beccari, an Italian sculptor as he watches Kamali on the ramp.
“Right? she makes it look so easy,” responds Aine Edwards, Kamali’s mentor and an Irish entrepreneur residing in Mahabalipuram.
Image Courtesy: Rashi - outdoorsy.in
For the skateboarding community in India, Kamali is a child prodigy. She is not a professional skateboarder yet, but she is already a part of the circuit and goes on tours with other skateboarders. How did this young girl from a fishing hamlet in coastal TN become the next big thing in Indian skateboarding?
Destined to meet
“Kamali was only 3 years old when she started skating on a slope built by Holystoked collective, which builds skating ramps across the country,” Aine says, “Mahabs has always been a surfer’s town, and skateboarding is concrete surfing, so it goes hand-in-hand here.”
Velu, a well-known surfer and Kamali’s uncle’s friend taught her and her little brother, Harish, how to balance themselves on a skate board, she says. “He even gifted them a board that they shared. Ever since those baby steps, Kamali has been on a roll, quite literally, teaching herself new tricks every day and skating to her heart’s content.”
However, it was when world-renowned skater Jamie Thomas visited Mahabs as part of Roark, a clothing brand's promotional event a few years ago, that Kamali got her first big break.
“I was down the end of the street and one of my friends, Rammohan from the Surfing Federation of India, mentioned that there was a pro skate-boarder in town. Just then, Kamali came out in a white dress with a skate board in her hand and Jamie Thomas was by the beach. I went and asked him if I can introduce him to a little girl. The rest is history,” says Aine, adding that they were destined to meet.
Image Courtesy: Aine Edwards
For Aine, it was just surreal to watch Jamie and Kamali skateboard together.
“What was merely a chance encounter lasted 3 to 4 hours. Jamie changed all his plans and taught her new tricks,” Aine says, “And just like that, he took Kamali’s skills up by a few notches. It was magic.”
“I learned a lot of new tricks from Jamie which I have been practicing. He taught me to drop in from the big one (taller part of the ramp) and to skate through steeper slopes. Then he taught me this cool trick called rock to fakie which I’m not sure how to explain” Kamali chips in with excitement. A talkative child, who is not shy to speak up, Kamali has more than just the sporting talent, she has confidence.
Jamie even sent Kamali a skateboard, on which she has been practicing ever since. Every day, she takes her board and goes to the ramp opposite to her house to hone her skills. However, Kamali’s potential, Aine explains, is not limited to the ramps in her village.
“Last year, we took a bunch of kids, including Kamali, to Mangaluru where Holystoked set up a skate park. She skated non-stop. She dropped in from the top of the ramp which is twice as tall as the ramp she was used to back home. After she got back, she was dejected as she had to go back to the smaller ramp. It was like giving a kid a big candy and taking it back,” laughs Aine.
Skateboarder in the surfers’ family
Aine and Kamali were introduced to each other through a surfer friend who stayed in a homestay atop Kamali’s house. Kamali’s chirpy presence instantly drew everyone to her, and Aine too was charmed the moment they met.
“She was quite a character even then. A lot of fun to hang out with. We soon started going to the ocean to surf and she gradually picked up the art of riding the waves,” Aine recollects.
Image Courtesy: Myles O'Reilly
Image Courtesy: Aine Edwards
Unlike the other girls in the town, Kamali was born into a family of surfers (her uncle is a well known surfboard shaper) and hence it came naturally to her, Aine explains.
“Surfing is in her blood. Kamali only started skating regularly during her school summer holidays, as there was no one to take her surfing. Now she can catch green waves and go sideways on her own, which is quite impressive,” says Aine.
“She has two skateboards and there’s a skating park conveniently located opposite to our house. She has been skateboarding almost every day since she was three. I sometimes think she uses her board more than her feet,” Kamali’s mother Suganthi says.
With the surf season beginning in March, Aine says that Kamali is excited to hit the waves again.
Skateboarding into the future
Living with her single mum, Suganthi, and grandparents, Kamali and her five-year-old brother Harish are the first-generation English medium school goers. So, they have to strike a balance between their formal education and sport. But with growing popularity, a lot of the residents around Mahabs want to send their kids to skate. And many of them even ask if Kamali can teach their children, explains Aine.
“The teachers in her school are very encouraging. Some of them wanted to get Kamali to teach skating to her classmates as part of the school’s extra-curricular activity,” says Aine.
“All said, this is still a conventional fishing village and the girls are brought up pretty traditionally. Many in this village don’t understand this culture of skating and surfing. For them it is something that has infiltrated from the West and they wonder what all the fuss is about?” says Aine.
Image Courtesy: Aine Edwards
Despite these challenges, Kamali, Harish and several other skater kids aim to shatter stereotypes and become mainstream skateboarders.
Aine and other surfing enthusiasts in Mahabs want to promote the sport in and around the village by setting up more and better ramps in the future. However, when asked about promoting skating through competitions, she remains sceptical, “She is too young to compete professionally. But besides this, skating much like surfing, is a soul sport. Although there are quite a few surfing contests, you do it not as a competition but for the love of the sport.”