Jill Ferguson’s Love for Goa, Surfing and the Ocean
Jill and Rahul started the Vaayu Surf School because of their mutual love for nature and Jill’s commitment to creating a business that has positive social impact. Vaayu is more than just a surf school and is home to a guest house, restaurant, adventure centre, surf shop, clothing line, artist residency, gallery space and also hosts events and workshops. We caught up with Jill and learnt a little bit about her journey.
Tell us a little bit about how you got into surfing, Goa and Vaayu?
I had started surfing when I moved to San Diego for college and then worked in India for a few moths as part of my masters. By the time I was done with my masters program my region of speciality was India, and since my boyfriend Rahul was from India, it made sense to move back to when I was done with school so I could put my degree to good use. Rahul wanted to start a kite surfing school so that’s how the ball got rolling. Goa was a natural choice for us. Vaayu pretty much takes everything Rahul and I are passionate about and puts it into one place.
People must have a few misconceptions when they see a woman running a surf centre, how has this experience been?
You are the first person to ever ask me this, and the truth is people definitely do have a lot of misconceptions when they see a woman running a water sports school. Not all of their misconceptions necessarily have to do with my gender though. Lots of people assume that just because I own a water sports school that I am in the ocean all the time. The reality is most of my time is doing administrative work for Vaayu and the other businesses that I consult with, so unforunately I don’t have as much time to spend in the ocean as I used to.
Sometimes, men coming into Vaayu for the first time, will assume that I am just the owner’s girlfriend instead of one of the cofounders. As a result those guys won’t expect me to know that much about the sports they are enquiring about and will be incredibly shocked when I can easily address their questions or advise them on equipment. Every once in awhile (like maybe once a season) I meet a gentleman who insists that I don’t know what I am talking about, and asks to speak to my partner Rahul about the equipment, lessons, or activities.
Goa has a very unique culture and lifestyle, how would you define it? What prompted you to move to Goa?
I moved to Goa for love, adventure, and with a dream to use my degree to help make the world a better place. As corny as that might sound, it’s the truth. Five years later, Goa has become my home. Goa may be in India, but its Portuguese history and globalized villages make it different from the rest of the country. Because of the Portuguese influence Goa has a strong passion for football, local theatre, music, celebrations, and seafood thalis.
I am a firm believer that because of Goa’s amazing blend of open minded people from around the world, Goa could actually one day become the model for sustainable development around the world.
Do you think surfing culture is catching up in India? Is it very male dominated?
Surfing culture in India is definitely expanding, every year we hear about more and more schools opening up around the coastline of India. That said, the surf scene in India is definitely still male dominated. Many people in India have a fear of the ocean or don’t know how to swim, which is part of the reason the sport is growing slower than some people expected. In addition, most places where the surf scene is really growing is in the more rural parts of the country, because that is where the ocean is still clean and there is easy access to good waves. In these more rural villages, women are predominately treated more conservatively which makes it harder for them to break out and start surfing for example.
Top surf spots in India? In the world?
Though I haven’t been to all of these yet, the top surf spots in India would be the Adaman Islands, Lakshwadeep, Varkala and Mahabalipuram.
In terms of the world, now that’s a bit harder. The world is a massive place and there are literally thousands of kilometres of coastline all around. Australia’s Gold Coast, South Africa, Hawaii, California, Mexico, and Peru are known internationally to have some of the world’s top waves, but honestly what the world would rank as the best waves would not necessarily be where I plan my next surf trip.
Despite owning a surf school, I am not and probably never will be a big wave surfer. I would personally prefer to go to some of the less popular spots because it probably means less people in the water, which means more chances to catch waves.
What inspired Vaayu and what does it represent? Has it been challenging setting up something so inter-disciplinary?
Vaayu was inspired by my partner’s love for the ocean and in particular the wind which always brought a sense of purpose, balance, and peace. He grew up sailing only to transition into windsurfing, than kite surfing, and finally surfing and stand up paddle boarding. I agreed to join in the venture because I wanted to set up a social business, something that followed the principles of conscious capitalism and that could hopefully lead by example and inspire other business to think more sustainably.
I am a self-proclaimed environmentalist in training, and anything that can help people fall deeper in love and connection with our planet is important. Vaayu is more than just a business to us, it is a platform and community for change, a space in which we try and honour a more conscious and connected way of living.
All Vaayu photo credits to Juhi Sharma