Deccan Chronicle

Paddling with a mission

Deccan Chronicle| Niveda Manohar

Published on: February 3, 2017 | Updated on: February 3, 2017

City-based standup paddler Kumaran Mahalingam talks about the beauty of the sport, and the need to conserve water bodies.

Kumaran during one of his expeditions.

Kumaran during one of his expeditions.

Kumaran Mahalingam speaks of standup paddling in a way that evokes the beauty of the sport. "The view of seeing a water body, be it an ocean, or a river or lake — is very different from the shore and being in the middle of it. It is something everyone must experience," says the paddler from Chennai, who was recognised by Limca Book of Records for two records, recently.

The 35-year-old Kumaran holds the record for the Longest Standup Paddling feat on river Godavari, Andhra Pradesh and for standup paddle boarding on most water-bodies by an individual. He  has also paddled on 19 different water bodies — 17 in India and one each at Langkawi, Malaysia and the Madhuganga wetland in Sri Lanka.

Speaking to DC about his feats, he says, "This was the first time that paddling was done on the Godavari, and I chose the section of the river between Papi hills and Rajahmundry, where the river is the widest. Moreover, it was done in the monsoon – so you can imagine the flow of water!"

Kumaran’s love for water sports began when he joined Bay of Life, a water sports school to learn surfing. "I liked the adventure part of surfing, but since the spots to practice this in India were limited, I couldn’t explore a lot. I then switched to paddle boarding, and never looked back!," he shares.

Kumaran, who talks and conducts workshops on paddling for school students, asserts on the importance of being connected to nature. "I want to promote standup paddling, and raise awareness about the conservation of water bodies. People normally do not give much attention to preserving wetlands. I love to take people along with me on expeditions. I teach them the sport and help them overcome the fear of water. In the olden times, civilisations were built on the course of rivers and lakes, connecting people directly with water. Today, children don’t even know what lakes look like. So, I try my best to restore this connect people had with water bodies."

Chennai has been seeing a rise in the awareness about recreational sports like surfing. Kumaran says that the knowledge people have about the sport has increased manifold over the past few years. He shares, "Competitions will definitely bring in attention to recreational sport. Surfing has been gaining a lot of attention these days, but the downside to that sport is that there are just four spots to surf in the state. But standup paddling is something that can be done across many places in the country."

The acceptance level for adventure sports has increased among the people in Chennai. One should admit that some of them do it for the sake of social media, to post a few selfies of themselves indulging in the sport, but even that is welcome," Kumaran adds.

But how does he tackle apprehensions on the safety of the sport? Kumaran replies, "90 percent of the people in India do not know swimming, and a large majority are hydrophobic. And that is why there is a notion that water sports are dangerous. But paddling is a sport that anyone who is physically fit from the ages of eight to 80 can do. There is enough safety equipment at everyone’s disposal and if they know basic swimming, and have good knowledge of the water they are treading on, they are good to go."

Kumaran, who is also a geologist conveys his concern over the recent oil spill which has ravaged Chennai’s coastline and it’s aquatic life. "Already, our zone is completely polluted. Even areas like Kovalam and Muttukaadu which weren’t clean until a few years ago, have now become polluted. We have seen cases of surfers falling ill, which wasn’t the case before. This has to be contained at the earliest, so that we can save migratory sea animals like dolphins at the least. And as a water sports enthusiast, I hope that such tragedies do not take place again, at a time when Chennai is finding new love in these sports," he expresses.

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