2nd Feb 2018 - Escape
Raffael Kably: Soul Man
Raff is a fascinating character who spends his days in boardshorts on the sand and streets of Kerala, on India’s golden west coast. We caught up with him to find out more about the sun-drenched and soulful scene that he’s a part of.
You gave up a successful (and to many, highly desirable) city-based career in music and film production to move to the sea and run Soul & Surf in Kerala. How and why did this sea-change come about?
If I’m being entirely honest I kind of enjoyed my life in Bombay; going out with my best friends, working with some high profile people. But, I always felt there was something missing. Once I started surfing I was constantly feeling more and more drawn to the small town, beach-side lifestyle (and fish curry on the daily). I remember thinking at the time that there’d be no harm in trying it for a few months. What’s the worst that could happen?
What makes Kerala such a special place?
Everything! Really it’s so hard to name one thing. The people, the slower pace of life, the sense of humour, the culture, the arts, the language, the poetry, the dance, the warmth (people and weather!), the palm trees, the beaches, the surf, the food, the beauty… this list could go on forever!
Do you still make and perform music?
Not as much as I used to. My closest friends are all still in the music industry and I don’t think it’s something I’d ever be able to stop doing. I’ve slowed down considerably but still perform and write music if something interesting crosses my path. It’s actually a pretty decent balance. I don’t think I ever wanted to be a professional musician/DJ. It’s just something that took over. I think I prefer it like this. Music will always be one of the biggest parts of my life it’s just that I’ve learnt that I can appreciate it a lot more like this.
As someone who lives their life wearing boardshorts, can you paint us a picture of what a typical day in your life is like?
Usually surf left-handers all morning from sunrise. Stop for a cup of chai on the way back for breakfast. Eat a big healthy breakfast with my crew and guests at Soul & Surf - this is one of my favourite times of the day, talking with the most interesting people from all around the world in an intimate way.
I can’t miss my daily fish curry and rice for lunch.
Then, either a yoga class or a sunset surf depending on the wind conditions followed by a glass (or a few) of wine or beer.
I usually spend the evenings at home with my fiancé Hayley (the best yoga teacher in the world) and our dog Kumi, cooking, watching TV shows and reading.
Then it’s early to bed, early to rise!
Oh and despite all of that I manage to fit some of my “work” in as well ☺
What’s your favourite time of day on India’s west coast, and why?
Different times of day, for different reasons!
Sunrise for the morning light and glassy lefts.
Breakfast time because I get to hang out and chat with some of the coolest people I’ve met.
Lunch because, well fish curry and rice... Can you tell I like fish curry and rice?
Evenings because of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see.
What does the ocean mean to you?
The ocean is something that reminds me of who I am everyday. It reminds me to be humble; to respect things that are greater than us; to realise that you can’t always control everything around you.
Most of all, it makes me feel like I’m the tiniest speck but at the same time that I’m part of something greater than all of us.
What significance does the ocean hold in Indian culture and in everyday life there?
With such a long coastline (4671 miles!!) It’s only natural that the ocean would play a huge part in our country’s history and culture.
One of the most famously recognized episodes from Hindu mythology is the Samudra Manthan which (to cut a very long story very short) was the churning of the ocean by the Gods and Demons in an act of diplomacy to create the nectar of immortality - or Amrita as it is called by Indians.
India has historically been one of the greatest trading hubs of the world for spices, silks and so many other things - and obviously the ocean and strategic ports played an important part in that and creating the trade routes, the culture and the pre-colonial wealth of India.
Huge festivals, and ceremonies have always been a part of our connection with the ocean. Indians tend to treat the ocean as a God with equal amounts of fear and respect.
Is this changing? Or does it need to change, and how will that happen?
The problem has started with globalization and the rise of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials. What would have been beautiful ceremonies celebrating and being grateful for our connection with the ocean have turned into extremely polluting affairs. We seem to have lost that connection with the ocean and are now celebrating festivals in the worst possible way by completely destroying the very thing that has given us life.
In my opinion this can only change through education, beginning from a grassroots level. This needs to be taught in schools, in offices, in village centers. Getting people to understand that the idea of a clean environment is something that is of utmost importance, especially to a country like India where the levels of pollution are starting to get out of hand and that, for example, festivals like these should be practiced in a way that is beneficial instead of destructive. The whole mindset and attitude of the people towards their surrounding needs to change.
Surfing is really starting to take-off in India, both amongst locals and with visiting surfers. How do you think the future of Indian surfing will look, and why?
I think we’re lucky to have some quality waves all round the Indian coastline. The secret is getting out and it’s seeing more and more people coming here for surf tourism.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) I don’t think India has the potential to be as exploited as Bali or Sri Lanka for example due to the simple fact that it is too fickle of a surf destination. Having said that, when its good, which it is a lot of the time, it’s really good! There’s always something to surf even on the smallest days.
Thanks to the uncertainty of conditions you’ll probably never see a boom of surf tourism like you have seen in Bali or other places that are known for surfing.
There is however a burgeoning local surf scenes with international brands starting to take notice, small scale competitions and some spots creating some really good surfers!
Keep an open mind if you want to surf in India.
What are you hoping to achieve with Soul & Surf in Kerala, beyond it being a destination for visiting surfers and yogis?
Soul & Surf has never been about just travelling surfers or yogis. One of the main pillars of our business is to leave a positive footprint, whether in the lives of our customers or within the local communities where we operate. I personally am very passionate about the social side of what we do at Soul & Surf and have been discussing and considering ways that we can create a bigger impact on the people around us and hopefully better the lives of a lot more people.
I intend to build a community of Soul Surfers from all around the world, all coming together for interesting conversations, kindling relationships and positive change towards the people around them – in and out of the water.
Raff wears the Burgh Boardshort in Seaweed Chalk
Photography by Katie Rae