Tanvi Jagadish is leading the way among female paddlers in India. Photo: Sean Evans

SUP Women | India’s Tanvi Jagadish

We take a lot of our freedoms for granted. For those of us who paddle, one of the privileges we rarely consider is having equal access to the water–regardless of our gender. Not so in some countries, where the biggest barrier to girls getting in the water is societal convention. This is one of the things that makes Tanvi Jagadish's (@INDIANSUPERGIRL) story so extraordinary.

Growing up on India's West Coast, Tanvi watched her older brother charging waves and though she longed to emulate him, her mother told her, "Surfing is not for girls." It wasn't until she met April Zilg–a North Carolina native and avid surfer who was spending a year in India–that Tanvi realized waterwomen had just as much right as watermen to take their place in the lineup.

However, as her parents and community still frowned on girls participating, this realization took six years to become Tanvi's reality. Then when she was 14, things finally started falling into place. Her grandfather introduced her to the Mantra Surf Club, her brother became her coach, and she started shredding. Once Tanvi became confident standup paddling in the calm backwater, she felt ready to take on waves and added SUP to her daily routine of shortboarding, meditation and yoga practice.

Though Tanvi was a quick learner and fed off the enthusiasm of her brother and his friends, she still faced a difficult road ahead. While girls around the world are paddling out in bikinis, Tanvi had to make do with a baggy t-shirt and long shorts, due to her society's stigma about showing skin. Despite making progress in surfing and SUP, she was still the only girl out there and faced the disapproving tsks and head shakes before and after every session.

It wasn't been an easy road, but Tanvi kept paddling. Photo: Sean Evans

It hasn’t been an easy road, but Tanvi always kept paddling. Photo: Sean Evans

As with many things in life, it sometimes takes success to change people's minds. So it was with Tanvi, who didn't begin to see her parents’ attitude change until she became India's national surfing champion in 2014. For good measure, she also claimed the SUP title on a two kilometer course.

"I'd been training hard with my brother but never expected to win the surfing contest at nationals, let alone the SUP event as well," Tanvi said. "I have to credit him for pushing me, April for sharing her love of the ocean, Mantra Surf Club for all their support and Surfing Swami for introducing surfing to India."

A year later, Tanvi showed that her performance was no fluke. At first, she was worried about the weather, as the wind had picked up to over 40 knots. But despite her anxiety about the conditions, she surged into the lead of the SUP race–which had been lengthened to 3.5 km–and never looked back, crossing the line first to repeat as national champion. Tanvi then went back-to-back in the surfing final. This stellar performance earned her the single spot on the SUP team for the 2016 ISA World Paddleboard Championships, where she was joined by one male teammate, 26-year-old Sekar Patchai.

Sekar and Tanvi were not only their country's sole representatives at the ISAs, but also became the first Indians to compete at an international paddling and surfing contest. With just two years of competitive experience, Tanvi looked to Sekar for support. "He has won 11 national championships and has always been a big help to me," she said.

Tavi became India's first female athlete at the 2016 ISAs in Fiji. Photo: Sean Evans

Tavi became India’s first female athlete at the 2016 ISAs in Fiji. Photo: Sean Evans

Though neither made the podium, they both scored a big victory for Indian paddlers. Tanvi also learned a lot from her fellow competitors.

"Everything was new to me at the ISAs," she said. "The board size, the amount of people racing and the big waves. To me, the best part was meeting people from 26 nations. It was beautiful to see all those flags flying together and made it feel that we were united as one. I tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could from Candice (Appleby), Sean (Poynter), Alejandra (Brito) and many others. And Casper (Steinfath) has become like another brother."

Now that Tanvi has had a taste of international competition, she wants more. With the help of a GoFundMe campaign that April Zilg started, Tanvi is hoping to come to the US for a month in 2017 to train and compete in the Carolina Cup. If she's able to travel to more contests outside her homeland, a top five world ranking is also in her sights. But beyond titles, medals and accolades, Tanvi hopes that her example will show other girls what's possible in paddling and surfing.

"In India many people are still scared of the ocean and if they do let their kids go out, it's only the boys," she said. "I want to show that girls do belong in SUP and that when we're given the chance, we can make our families and our country proud."


Learn about another barrier-breaking SUP woman in India.

Photos from the 2017 Fiji ISA World Championships.