Photo: Kishore Kumar @desisurfer

India's First SUPerstar to Compete at Carolina Cup

America to India. The beach to the big city. Paddling or surfing every day to being landlocked.

When North Carolina paddler April Zilg moved to Pune, India for six months for her husband's job, "culture shock" wasn't just a buzz phrase but a stark reality. After discussing the matter with her other half, April decided that her longing for the ocean was too strong and went to stay in Mulki, a town on the west coast of India, so she could train at the Mantra Surf Club.

What she didn't know was that this decision would change both a young girl's life and India's SUP scene, forever.

April soon discovered that while Mantra was one of the few Indian organizations giving young people the opportunity to get on the water, there were some big differences between it and the US surf clubs she was used to back home. While a few girls were allowed to surf or paddle, their families strongly discouraged them.

"Women in India aren't anywhere close to having equal rights," Zilg explained. "You see billboards imploring families not to throw their girl babies in the trash because many parents only want boys."

And yet, despite these prejudices and obstacles, there was one young water woman whose enthusiasm soon caught April's eye. Tanvi Jagadish (@INDIANSUPERGIRL), then 14, was out on the water at every opportunity, similarly unconcerned by the skepticism and finger-wagging of her elders as she charged into the lineup. "You could see even then that Tanvi was destined to be in the water," Zilg said.

Photo: Kishore Kumar @desisurfer

When April moved back to Wilmington, North Carolina, her influence at Mantra Surf Club remained. Tanvi had been bitten by the SUP and surfing bug and was determined to continue her advancement. The two used social media to keep in touch, with Tanvi regularly asking for technique and tips via Facebook Messenger.

"April has always been very patient with my many questions and I've found her training programs to be very beneficial," Tanvi said. "She has done so much for me."

The positive effects of this mentorship were evident, as Tanvi claimed India's surfing and SUP distance title in 2014 and went back-to-back in both disciplines in 2015. Before heading to the ISA World Paddleboard Championships last year, the frequency and urgency of Tanvi's messages increased.

She had never competed in big surf before, so the prospect of taking on Fiji's legendary breaks was daunting. It was also the first time Tanvi had competed outside her homeland.

"I told Tanvi not to worry about where she finished, but rather to just focus on the experience, meeting new people and having fun," Zilg said.

Photo: Kishore Kumar @desisurfer.

Tanvi did just that, forming friendships with everyone from Casper Steinfath to Sean Poynter. In addition, this initial taste of global competition left Tanvi wanting more. Once she returned home from the ISAs, she and April began planning her next international challenge: coming to America.

"We wanted to find an event that didn't just feature elite competitors, but also offered a friendly atmosphere and the chance for Tanvi to attend clinics and demos," Zilg said.

The Carolina Cup and Wrightsville Beach SUP Surf ProAm both checked all these boxes and will allow Tanvi and her chaperone to stay with April, who paid for her protégé's flight. They plan to train for a couple of weeks before Tanvi heads off to California, if her fundraising campaign meets it target.

"I can't wait to see all the friends I made at the ISAs, to train with April and to experience American food and culture," Tanvi said.

April is also hoping to fashion Tanvi with some new gear. She might be the only international SUP competitor who still has to use a heavy adjustable paddle. Clothing is another issue.

India's social conventions preclude Tanvi wearing the same kind of apparel as other racers. Due to a very limited budget, she's still stuck wearing heavy cotton T-shirts and shorts which quickly become waterlogged and weigh her down.

Yet the main benefits of Tanvi's first trip to America won't be material. In addition to testing herself at The Carolina Cup and Wrightsville Beach ProAm, which she says will be her first races in cold water, Tanvi hopes that her appearance will lead to other opportunities to further her international race career. This includes plans to compete in Bali and at the 2017 ISAs in Demark. April believes that coverage of Tanvi's visit can do even more.

"Tanvi is showing other girls in India and around the world that no matter what obstacles you face, no matter what your society thinks about women, you can be a successful paddler and surfer," Zilg said. "She's a huge inspiration."


Learn more about this international SUP woman.

Photos from last year’s Carolina Cup.