It takes roughly 40 hours to reach Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) from Kutch (Gujarat) by road—a distance of around 2,600 km.
It takes roughly 40 hours to reach Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu) from Kutch (Gujarat) by road—a distance of around 2,600 km. By train, it takes 24 hours. But in November 2016, Mumbai-based kayaker Kaustubh Khade decided to cover the distance on his kayak and achieved the extraordinary feat of travelling from Kutch to Kanyakumari in just 84 days.
An engineer by training, 31-year-old Khade (who has been kayaking for a decade now) chose to venture into watersports in 2007 after graduating from IIT-Delhi. He is currently touted as the best kayaker in India.
Explaining what the sport is all about, Khade says, “It’s different from a fisherman’s boat. You use a double-ended paddle on both the sides to steer the kayak, unlike a single paddle on conventional boats.” Simply put, kayaking means using a kayak to move across water with the help of paddles.
Even though the sport is still considered niche in India, it has, in the past couple of years, gained some traction. Today, around 20 states actively participate in kayaking at national championships. The Indian national team, in fact, has made significant impact among Asian nations. “When I made it to the Indian team in 2012, I met people who were putting their day and night behind the sport. It was very encouraging. Currently, we are making giant strides at the Asian level. The sport is definitely picking up,” says Khade.
He is right. Over the years, kayaking’s popularity has grown steadily. It’s a common sight these days to see adventure sports enthusiasts thronging beach destinations such as Goa and Kerala to get a taste of the watersport. This, in turn, is contributing to the growth of the tourism sector in these places.
To cash in on the frenzy, Mahesh Sanap started Wilder West Adventures in 2014, a professional white-water rafting operation based in Kolad, Maharashtra. Wilder West offers watersport activities such as kayaking, white-water rafting, scuba diving, etc, around the river Kundalika. Since it began, they have seen a massive upsurge in the number of tourists opting for kayaking. “Initially, people would be sceptic. They thought it was like boating. As more and more people came to us, we explained to them how it was a different watersport altogether. Today, we see families, college students and even office-goers asking us for kayaks. It’s heartening to see how the sport is picking up,” says Sanap.
Despite the positives, however, there are certain bottlenecks as well. Many people are still not aware of the sport, let alone its technicalities. Khade recounts an incident a couple of years back when he was asked by the police to move his kayak while he was kayaking in Mumbai. “It was behind the mayor’s bungalow near Marine Drive. I was kayaking and a cop came to enquire. He had no knowledge about what I was there for. So he asked me to move from there,” laughs Khade.
This lack of knowledge is what the Indian Kayaking & Canoeing Association, the apex body for the sport in India, is trying to combat. A slew of measures by the association to bring the sport to the forefront and make it part of the Indian sporting culture have helped it grow. Balbir Singh Kushwaha, secretary general, Indian Kayaking & Canoeing Association, believes kayaking is heading in the right direction, but needs more support from the government. “We are doing what we can to ensure that the sport reaches the masses, but that’s not enough. To take the sport forward, we need educated coaches and better equipment. We are working with respective state governments and sports bodies to encourage participation among children. Funding is a major constraint… We need more,” he says.
There are other constraints as well. A major one is the lack of availability of equipment in the country, which leaves kayakers no other option but to source from abroad, which is a big hassle. “I had to import my gear from different countries, as nothing of good quality is available in India. A heavy import duty is levied, forcing us to shell more from our pockets. We need better equipment manufacturers, as everyone can’t pay such high duty,” says Khade, who dreams of traversing the entire coastline of India. “The coastline stands at 7,500 km, of which I have 4,000 km more to cover. The other dream is to compete in the open race in Hawaii, the unofficial world championship of surf-ski (a long, narrow, lightweight kayak with an open cockpit, usually with a foot pedal-controlled rudder),” he says.