Over a hundred world-class kayakers, including some Olympic medallists, will test their mettle in some of the fiercest rapids in the natural streams of Kozhikode in Kerala as part of the first World Kayak Championship this July. The championship will be a part of the sixth edition of the Malabar River Festival, an adventure-tourism event held every year in the district.
Some of the participants include Vavrinec Hradilec, a Czech olympic silver-medallist and three-time world champion, Michael Dawson, Kiwi slalom canoeist, Nouria Newman, a French slalom canoeist, and Ashu Rawat, a prominent Indian kayaker who hails from Rishikesh. They will compete across categories such as freestyle, intermediate and slalom and boater cross in the championship scheduled to be held from July 18-22.
The races will traditionally take place across small sections, between 1-3 kilometres, of Iruvanchipuzha and Chalipuzha, tributaries of the Chaliyar river, fourth longest in the state. Both the streams are rain-fed and therefore come alive only during the monsoon.
“It’s a big challenge because during the monsoon, access to the river could be slippery and the crew have to be transported. We also have to ensure the safety of the volunteers and the audience. But since these rivers are rain-fed, we can only do it during these months. We are confident that we can pull it off,” said Manik Taneja, founder of the Madras Fun Tools which provides technical support to the championship.
Taneja, who’s himself a kayaking trainer based in Bengaluru, says compared to northern India which has long and wide rivers suitable more for rafting, the southern part of the country have these narrower streams coursing through the Western Ghats which are ideal for kayaking. A combination of big water continuous rapids and low volume drop can be quite exciting for paddlers. Mild water temperature is another plus.
“Our Indian coastline is long and beautiful. We have such excellent natural resources for our recreation and fitness. We have the resources to be a strong watersport nation. But just imagine, the duties on kayaking equipment are exorbitant. I have to pay 60 per cent tax to bring them into the country. Right now, we don’t have the technical expertise to manufacture them here, it will take time. The government must promote more watersports,” he added.
For the Kerala Tourism department, the championship holds the potential of not just hosting some of the world’s leading watersport athletes but spreading the word through them. The department has pooled in Rs 20 lakh for the event in Thusharagiri with Rs 30 lakh coming in from the Kozhikode District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC), three local panchayats and private sponsors.
“When the Nipah virus infection struck us, we had even thought of cancelling the event. But now that it has subsided, we want to bring people back to Kozhikode. We want to make the district an adventure tourism hub,” said Benoy V, secretary, DTPC.
“A German film crew would be coming to document the event. They will go back and stream this at major adventure film festivals. So, in a way, more exposure of the possibilities of our state and international marketing is our aim,” he added.
While those who want to participate in the kayaking championship and other events have to register, tickets to watch the competition are free-of-cost. A prize money of Rs 25 lakh is on the anvil for the winner.