Today schools are going beyond education centers. They are becoming awareness centers. The Bay of Life School is one such surfing school located in Chennai that teaches children not just to surf but to preserve ocean life and control pollution. They are known as a – School for Ocean sport & Ocean literacy!

Jamal’s fifth idea is Chennai’s First Accredited Surf School

Bay of Life School in Chennai is the first accredited surf school in Tamil Nadu. Nestled in Kovalam Chennai, surfing lessons are offered at a surf spot in Covelong on the East Coast Road.

In the early 2000s, Showkath Jamal dreamed of two things – to become a teacher or to become an entrepreneur. But due to family pressures and tradition he had to complete five years of law school. After he got his Masters in Business Law in 2004, he dived straight into teaching law to BA students while on the side, volunteering with the Crocodile Bank and the Snake Park in Chennai. Then in 2005, he set up his first entrepreneurial venture a BPO. Then came another venture in 2009, Yo Potato, an online food delivery platform that was like ‘Swiggy before Android’. But sadly everything failed.

He then went to the Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology (KCRE) to study wildlife conservation. But with hardly any forest reserves in Chennai, he turned to look at the ocean as a big reserve with extensive marine biodiversity.

One day as he watched foreigners surf on the beach, he thought to himself, “the ocean is the largest reserve on earth. If we start a surf school where we can teach people about the ocean and how they can enjoy it, then people will come and take care of it,”

He first took surf lessons from the foreigners and later invited a senior surfer, Reece McGowen, from California to teach a small team to surf for a period of six months.

In 2011, Showkath Jamal founded the ‘Bay of Life’ School. He wanted to encourage sustainable sports without harming the ocean.

Image credits: Flickr

Sustainable is not easy

The Bay of Life School offers various activities such as surfing, paddling, ocean kayaking, swimming, windsurfing, kite surfing, which do not use motorboats. The response was great from day one but not without challenges. Getting NOCs (No Objection Certificates) and requisite permissions from the local government was time consuming, mainly nobody then knew much about the sport or how the school could help to preserve the oceans. Besides, the Kovalam beach then was used as an open public toilet by the fishermen who resided there.

Bay of Life School – The Team

The Bay of Life School has 14 trained surfers who have trained 9,000 students. They have also conducted surf lessons for 25 armed forces from the aviation team, free of charge. The instructors teach ocean sport to anyone from 6 years to 60 years. They teach them to enjoy, love and take care of the ocean. Some of the other key team members besides Showkath Jamal, the Founder, are:-

  • Kamesh, Gokul, Karthik (Instructors and ocean lovers from Mahabalipuram fishing hamlet)
  • Sumeet Gulechha (Founder of Rincon Realty and an avid surfer)
  • Siddharth Chandrashekar (Masters in Zoology, spearheading the school outdoor science programs)
  • Jai Prabhoo (The General Manager and Man Friday)
  • Michael Steve (AUSTSWIM instructor of swim training and water safety)

Campus Kovalam

Campus Kovalam is an initiative of the Bay of Life School. It conducts marine field trips for school children teaching them topography, tides, ecosystem, taxonomy, release bycatch, and more. The classes have two parts – a half-a-kilometre walk along the beach, and a visit to field stations like CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) and CIBA (Central Institute of Brackishwater Aquaculture).

The School has reached about 12,000 introducing them to a future career in marine biology.

The Bay of Life Foundation

With a team of Environmentalists, Architects, Engineers, Geologists, Herpetologists and Zoologists, Bay of Life Foundation fights to conserve our oceans for our future generations by inspiring a personal connection to the environment and help develop the actions to sustain it. The NGO funds several conservation activities from the profits of Bay of Life Surf School.

The foundation has taught over 3000+ children. It has helped to make them aware of environmental issues, effects of trash management and water pollution.

In the last 5 years, the Bay Life Foundation has also cleared over 24 tons of trash through coordinated mass cleanups and daily cleanups by local women who work on monthly wages. Chennai can boast of a clean beach and helping to save turtles from extinction.

Showkath Jamal, Founder of Bay of Life School receiving Award. Image credits: Anasuya Life

Certifications and Awards

In 10 years, Bay Life School has earned

  • 6 international certifications
  • 3 awards
  • 3 national records and
  • 1 world record

The Future is here (2021- 2025)

After the success of The Bay Life School, Showkath plans to open five self-managed centres along the eastern and western coasts. He aims to start with areas around Mumbai, and then expand it to Tier-II cities. Though the pandemic badly hit their Team Outings’ programme, post-August 2020, they have got back on their feet. The school also offer scuba diving lessons now in association with Dive India.

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