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WATERSPORTS

Ready for take off, on water and air

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WATERWOMAN: Innes Correia, Women's World Kitesurf champion, rides the waves at Mandwa

Kitesurfing, India's latest adventure sport, has practitioners stand on a board and use a power kite to soar across the water.

Armed with a second-hand air cooler, a couple boards a ferry at the Gateway of India. On the boat, the cooler somewhat defeats its purpose by leading to a heated exchange. The couple is asked to pay a surcharge for carrying "extra luggage". Soon the issue is settled, and the owners alight triumphantly with the cooler and head home. Not far away, a bunch of surfers bob up and down on the meagre waves of the Arabian sea, aching for something that, like the cooler, would allow them to manipulate the surrounding air flow.

These are no ordinary surfers but ones that fly kites while riding the waves. Last week though, their colourful kites, which looked like parachutes, lay on the beach, starved of flight. Wind speed measured less than 10 knots and they need a speed of 10 to 30 knots to get up in the air. Though conditions were not favourable on the second day of the Red Bull Quila Surf, a kitesurfing competition, it did establish a basic tenet - respecting nature is a big part of kitesurfing.

The latest adventure sport to enter India, kitesurfing is a water sport that depends heavily on wind. Kitesurfers harness the power of the wind with a large, controllable power kite. This propels them across the water on a kiteboard similar to a small surfboard.

The sport is still finding its feet in India, taught by independent expat instructors in Goa and a few kitesurfing schools in Mandwa, Maharashtra. So it routinely leads to confusion. Curious passersby tend to accost kitesurfers such as Callum Pereira on the beach to ask if they too could have a go at "parasailing" or "paragliding".

"Even my friends do not fully understand the sport. I have to show them pictures, " says Pereira. He explains techniques and stunts to friends by comparing it to cycling. "The kite has four lines. You use the two in the middle to power the kite and the other two at the end to control direction, just like the handles of a bicycle, " says Pereira.

The third-year mass media student, who has been kitesurfing for a year, says the sport is easy to pick up so long as you have the patience for it. Manoeuvring a kite on water involves a lot of falling. "Besides, you will catch us waiting most of the time, for wind, " says 19-year-old Pereira, who was one of the four winners of the Red Bull Quila Surf competition.

He is the same age as Ines Correia, a Portuguese woman with sun-kissed pink cheeks, who was judging participants at Mandwa on speed, manoeuvrability and attitude. Towelling herself off on the second day, Correia, the 2011 Women's World Kitesurf champion, says she sees huge potential for kitesurfing in India. "On the east coast, winds are strong. The west coast has flat water lagoons with decent wind, " says Correia, who has been practising water sports since she was a child.

Correia's presence at the event is a strong message the sport is flourishing in the country, says Jehan Driver, managing director of Quest Expeditions, an organisation which specialises in adventure sports. Driver has seen enthusiastic aspirants from Orissa, Kolkata and even landlocked Delhi. "India has a 7600km-long coastline and almost 200 kitesurfers. So, every kitesurfer has more than 300km to himself, " says Driver, adding that he would love it if the youth took to the water instead of beer on weekends.

One obstacle is the cost. A kitesurfing kit costs between Rs 1 and 1. 5 lakh. Most of the equipment is available on hire. "The kit is compact, " says 23-year-old Charmaine Pereira, the only woman kitesurfer in India. "The kite fits right in your backpack and the board and harness can be strapped onto it, " she says.

The biggest misconception, feels the petite, cheery Charmaine, is that the sport requires strength. "Ninety per cent of it is about manoeuvring the kite and 20 per cent about surfing, " says Charmaine, whose family may think she's crazy but who herself thinks the freedom that comes with kitesurfing is worth it.

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