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Like a Fish to Water

Vilassini’s introduction to swimming took place through her dad and uncle who used to go swimming in the Marina swimming pool every weekend, and they began taking Vilassini along when she was about 10 months old. There, she met four-year-old Yamini, daughter of a police officer, who was aspiring to set a Limca record by swimming in the ocean. She was enthralled by Yamini’s determination and was also encouraged by her mother to take up a sport. 

Very shortly, Chettinad Vidyashram became her best bet to pursue her passion, as it was among the few schools to have a swimming pool at that time. From then on, she started participating in inter-school competitions, where she trained with Mr. Elangovan, who pushed her towards competitive swimming. The consecutive year, she won silver in All India CBSE Cluster meet, Under 10 categories. She also participated in the next cluster meet and nationals, securing gold in both. Altogether, Vilassini has won around 70 medals in the National and Zonal level Championships and around 300 medals in the State Championships. 

Vilassini began her love of surfing when she was ten years old. Courtesy: Vilassini Sundar

For the next three years, her life was nothing but different combinations of the same elements; gym and swimming. She was soon homesick and returned to Chennai upon bagging a gold medal in the Junior National Aquatic Championships. “During school, there had not been a single day when I showed up for the school prayer, I always went to the classroom directly and that’s how supportive my school has been” she jovially purrs. 

In this manner, the journey of Tamil Nadu’s first female surfer and stand-up paddler started! Vilassini’s introduction to surfing began when she saw a news article about a 13-year-old surfer from Visakhapatnam. Having decided to take a break from swimming to focus on her 12th boards, she, however, found it very hard to stay on track. Seeking a break, she tried her hand at the Covelong Point- the surfing school in Kovalam. For the next four months, she dedicated all of the weekends to get better at the sport, spending up to 9 hours every weekend. 

She enjoys surfing in Covelong Beach. Courtesy: Vilassini Sundar

Though she never meant to take up competitive surfing, she was convinced to take part in the All India Meet that was going to take place at the Covelong surf school. To her dismay, just a week before the fest, our champ met with an accident while surfing and ended up fracturing her leg, and her participation became impossible. However, she was curious to see other female surfers as she had yet to see another female surfer at the top level and her inquisitiveness led to her attending the festival as a member of the crowd. 

She is one of the first Indian girls to participate in national surfing challenges. Courtesy: Vilassini Sundar

In 2015, Vilassini took part in her first competitive challenge, where she participated in the National Surfing Championship held at Covelong during the Covelong Point Surf Festival and finished in fourth place. This was the first time an Indian girl had participated in this event.

“The fear of getting tanned is a major issue here in South India,”  she scowls, when asked why there weren’t more women surfers. From the time she began her surfing journey, she has only seen one other girl take up surfing. She wishes for more people to be a part of this sport. Though Kovalam is one of the best spots to surf in India and despite being extremely comfortable in the water, the girls from the villages near Kovalam aren’t allowed to fish or surf  “They are more comfortable in water than any of us can ever be,” says Vilassini. 

“Surfing is more well-known now, but people who do it only do it for the thrill, not many of them take it up for passion.”

Vilassini Sundar

Her advice to youngsters looking to make it big in sports, especially to the parents, is that the first sport that their child takes up as a kid might not be the right sport for them. “Don’t try to select specific sports for children early on. Let them try their hand at different sports. Many great athletes started playing one sport before finding their passion was in another.” 

Vilassini is now pursuing Sports and Exercise Science at Sri Ramachandra Medical University, Porur. An active participant and winner at the Covelong Point Surfing Festival, she manages to squeeze in four days of surfing a week. We came to the end of this conversation with her saying that you can get your surfing board customized based on your height, weight and the style of a wave from Indi Surfboards, Pondicherry.

“The adrenaline rush is addictive, similar to the feeling you get while you’re riding a bike really fast.” 

Vilassini Sundar
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