Home 2024 Riding the ocean swells – Kitesurfing

Riding the ocean swells – Kitesurfing

by Avishma Matta
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Growing up in a beach town, walking barefoot on the sand and looking at the vastness of the ocean was a common occurrence. The occasional picnics, when friends of the family visit and we get to play in the water, were always fun. As I grew up, whichever city I lived in, if it wasn’t a sea-side town, I always felt something was missing. 

When I signed off from my last role at a large corporate firm living in a city with no beach, I wanted to do something fun and something ‘water’. While being around water was not new to me, but ‘in’ the water seemed like something I should try, so I signed up for an open water diving course – where we put on a mask and tank, jump in the ocean, go look at life under water and be merry. While (pool) swimming has been part of my life from when I was a kid (thanks to my parents and their labour of taking me to the pool every day for swim lessons that summer and many summers after that), after, being in the ocean is a whole different experience. My instructor still jokes about this – when we went out for my first dive and we jumped off the boat, I latched onto him for dear life – to be specific, held onto his neck tightly with both my arms. Guess you’re picturing that now, and as you can imagine, I had done way worse than Hrithik in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. But once we went under the surface, it was amazing. Diving has opened up a whole new world! But wait, what I didn’t see coming was the next big one. The place I went diving, also had this other sport called kitesurfing (/kiteboarding). I had just learnt of it and it looked quite interesting, the colourful kites with the backdrop of the ocean horizon. So of course, I signed up for that for my next visit. 

In kitesurfing, you attach yourself to a kite,  slip a board on your feet and use the power of the wind to move on the surface of the water. These are different from our Pongal kites. Oh it didn’t come easy, and it took me a long time to get the hang of it.

The number of times I face planted and the amount of salt water I drank those days, let’s not talk about that for now. But it was fun!

The place where I learnt, the students learn in the lagoon. Well, it’s technically not a lagoon but a portion of the beach access, which has a reef separating it partially on one side from the open water. I remember the day I ‘graduated’ and rode into the ocean, out of the lagoon and past the reef, and the moment I looked back at the land, oh my it felt out of this world. And I got hooked. After that I went back to practice whenever I could, got riding better and eventually got my own gear. In early 2022, we had India’s first Kiteboarding Regatta (competition). A few friends in the sport encouraged me to participate although I was a newbie. It wasn’t so much the Regatta that helped but meeting fellow kiters from other cities and kiting with them, I got to learn a lot. Won a couple of medals in the other Regattas that year, but hold on, not going to act like I climbed Mt Everest, it was more like our Sameer Hill. Because it’s still a tiny niche community, but fast growing. India currently has about 40 active kiters with about 4 women – I may be wrong, but I tried arriving at a number speaking to the others who teach or kite at different locations in the country. It’s now included in the Olympics, so hope to see a lot more folks getting in the sport soon.

We do have some groundwork to do before that, starting with having more people learn how to swim. It’s striking how we have such a vast coastline and such few swimmers in our mammoth population. It would also help having more training centres in the country, we currently have three schools. And it would definitely help to have the Government’s support to train and place more lifeguards along the coast, identify safe/unsafe zones, encourage people to get in the water (safe zones) and create awareness about water safety which would be a flip from the current fear inducing ways of managing beach goers (maybe Goa alone is an exception here, but would be nice to know if there are other such places in the country). Long way to go. 

From early last year, I wanted to try new things in the sport, and also wanted to try kiting in a saree. So in June last year, I managed to do it, went kitesurfing in a saree for the first time, and guess it would be safe to say the first one ever to do it. Was scared initially, and tried different draping styles. The first attempt of course had everything tucked in and no hanging parts from top or bottom (it also didn’t look much like a saree because of that), in the second attempt had left the pallu out, and the third time was the charm, no more tucking in, draped it the regular style and went for it. That was a fun day! 

I must add that I’ve had a few scary incidents too in the sport, to be fair, it’s an adventure sport so it’s expected. You are at the mercy of the winds and swells, and your gear. Some days are calm, and on some days the swells are taller than you. That’s a funny feeling, when I’m in the valley in between two swells and I don’t see the other side for that short window until I’m up on the next swell. Maybe in a way, it’s like riding the giant wheel at these town exhibitions. Being a recreational kitesurfing enthusiast, all experiences are super exciting. 

Needless to say, it’s important to never compromise on safety just like in any other adventure sport. I never go out alone, having some support is always important. The order of priority I look for is to have a rescue boat on standby (preferably someone trained on kite rescue), or another kiter who can get to you quickly if needed, and if not, at least someone watching you from the shore (preferably someone who can swim). While places like Goa have a buzzing community, with a lot of non Indian kiters too, living in Visakhapatnam, it’s usually been option three for me. But even on the days when the winds are amazing and the forecast looks great, no company means no kiting. On the other hand, on the good days, I got to explore a handful of beaches along the city coast and recently found a few new promising places too. My appreciation for the elements of nature and their power has gone up multifold for sure. 

While kitesurfing itself has added a different dimension to my life, I feel it’s given me a lot more. I think my driving has improved because of it, not kidding, I used to be quite scared to drive earlier although I’ve known how to for years before this. Let me rephrase, I used to drive occasionally before this, but never wanted to drive in traffic (yes, I’m aware of the irony of the task and purpose, don’t ask). But in the last couple of years, I’ve done a handful of long distance journeys, may I add – with confidence. Kiting nudged me towards the things I’ve always wanted to try but didn’t, like skydiving (story for another day). 

Let’s see what the future holds. I’m excited to learn new tricks and experience new places to kite at. Overall it’s been quite wonderful and super fun! Hope you get to try it too! 

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