Kayaking is the new sport in vogue at Kochi. Esther Elias paddles around Kothad with a group of beginners
The sun is an angry red dot over Kothad Island. It fires a straight line of blinding light across the backwaters toward a small group of tourists and locals lined up by Kothad’s shoreline. Bright kayaks in blue, orange and yellow colour the calm waters around, while Joseph Deleesh, manager of Scuba Cochin, gives the group a short brief of kayaking’s basics. In a city blessed with abundant backwaters, the adventure sport is the latest to find ardent fans among its visitors and residents alike.
“Kayaking is simple,” says Joseph. “Keep your back straight, your legs stretched out, grip the paddle with your arms spread wide across it and your fists facing downwards. Once you get this posture right, you can row for several hours at a stretch without any body pains.” The group seems hopeful as they step out into the water, surrounded by coconut trees and silence; the sun still being mean. The first moments are difficult; the kayaks seem to have minds of their own. Backs arch, triceps and biceps pull, but slowly, manoeuvring your way through grows easier.
As we paddle our path around Kothad, Joseph explains that since he began organising weekly kayaking trips around Kochi in 2010, interest in the sport has grown tremendously. Abin Thomas, diving instructor at Inter Dive Adventure Sports Club, says kayaking has become so popular that for five years now, they’ve organised annual kayaking competitions in association with the Cochin Carnival enjoying an increasing number of participants each year. “We had over 40 people signing up this year,” he says.
“At first it was the foreigners who were keen on kayaking because they had seen it at other tourist spots with water sports. Soon, many students who had joined us from North India and elsewhere for diving certification courses joined us in kayaking and now it’s caught on among youngsters, families and corporates in Kochi,” explains Joseph. While weekends are busy with families on outings, our group today is mixed between students and businessmen. Popular areas in the city for kayaking are trips that start from Marine Drive and stretch to Fort Kochi, a common route for Inter Dive. “We’ve also conducted day-long tours at Kumbalangi, near the Bhoothathankettu Dam and several summer camps for children.” Kumbalam, Cherai and Vazhachal are the hot spots on the outskirts of Kochi, says Joseph, while the peace and quiet of Kothad, Pizhala and Kadamakudi islands allure too.
The journey around these islands could take over three hours depending on the group’s stamina but for today we’ve chosen to slowly amble just around Kothad’s length. Chinese fishing nets bow beside us, wolf whistles from the shore ring loud, classical music wafts out from houses by the water and the occasional motorised ferry interrupts the water’s hush. You could either paddle furiously across or let the seven-to-twelve meter deep waters zigzag you down their course. Some kayaks come with rope locks that hold your legs in position, and if you’re tired from paddling Joseph and his team of lifeguards and instructors will attach you to their raft and zip you down the channel with them.
Kayaks come in two kinds, explains Joseph. “There are ‘sit-on-top’ kayaks that are for recreation. They are water balanced so they rarely topple over and are easy to row. The ‘sit-in’ kayaks are the professional ones which are sensitive to your body’s movements and you need to practice proper rowing techniques for those.” The sit-in kayaks enable longer rides and Joseph plans day-long trips from Allepey to Kochi once these kayaks are popularised in the city.
Scuba Cochin also retails kayaks and Joseph says several Kochi families have bought them, for kayaking is legal in any open water since it is non-motorised. “Families take them out in backwaters everywhere. All you need is a life jacket.” A single-seater kayak weighs about 15 kg and costs about Rs. 40,000 while two-seaters are upwards of Rs. 50,000.
As we dip under the Cheranallur bridge, storks sit stately on dying seaweed, a sole eagle circles above us and fish pop in and out of the dark, thick waters. Besides recreation, kayaking can be a full-body workout just like cycling or running. Rowing builds your body, abdomen upwards, and your legs are used to direct the kayak. Joseph hopes to soon start a daily kayaking unit near Tripunithura for its health benefits. “There are even those who use it as physiotherapy after surgeries,” he informs. Silhouetted against the setting sun, our group is thinking of little else but relaxation just now. Right across, a yellow moon slowly rises into the night.