Malabar River Festival 2019 to focus on finding Indian talents in whitewater kayaking 

We track down young Indians who could be the future of kayaking in India

Jose Joy Published :  26th July 2019 06:00 AM   |   Published :   |  26th July 2019 06:00 AM
A shot from Malabar River Fest 2018

A shot from Malabar River Fest 2018

Whenever we picture adventure sports, it’s almost always foreigners dressed up in helmets and gear. Give some credit to the advent of the internet, Indian millennials are also getting into adrenaline driven outdoor activities. Realising this, the seventh edition of Kozhikode-based Malabar River Festival (MRF) honours up-and-coming athletes in whitewater kayaking.

“Last year, our lineup had participants from 21 countries, including world champions like Mike Dawson and Dane Jackson. We’ve marked Kerala on the international kayaking map and now want to open up avenues for native talent,” says Manik Taneja, who co-organises the contest alongside Jacopo Nordera, in collaboration with Kerala Tourism. 

Adding credibility to their claim is their debut tie-up with IKCA (Indian Kayaking and Canoeing Association) and ICF (International Canoe Federation).

“Even though these organisations have their own events, this would be the first time they are tying up with a private fete in India. Malabar River Festival 2019 will become a platform for IKCA to observe talents from across the country and to pick young athletes to represent India at international meets like the Olympic Games and the Asian Games,” he informs, about the festival that features three competitions—Giant Slalom (kayakers have to pass through hanging gates), Boater X (a race between four participants) and Time Trial (sprint to record the fastest individual time). 

The organisers hope that the prize money of $15,000 will be an impetus for youngsters to pursue the sport that is still nascent in the country. Indulge traces out a few paddlers coming down for MRF who could be the future of Indian white water rafting.

Amit Thapa

In the past four years since he started kayaking, Amit has become a favourite in the community, earning the nickname Gappu. Growing up in Shivpuri, Uttarakhand, he got into the sport after being inspired by his brother. The 19-year-old has already won accolades at Arunachal Pradesh-based Adventure @ Mechuka and Karnataka’s Kali Kayak Festival, and was chosen as Best Asian Paddler at MRF 2018.

“One of the challenges professional kayakers face is earning a living and also saving up to compete at festivals,” says Amit, who works for an adventure firm. A fan of downriver freestyling, which helps him showcase his best manoeuvres, Amit aims to become an efficient athlete who can tackle extremely dangerous Grade V and VI rapids with ease. 

Naina Adhikari

She has been breaking stereotypes since the age of 13 by becoming one of the youngest competitive paddlers in India. “It was so difficult to convince my parents about what I want to do while I was in school. It’s hard for a woman to stay in extreme sports in our country and I wouldn’t have lived through it without support from the kayaking community,” says Naina.

Besides winning positions like Best Female Champion at Ganga Kayak Festival 2019, she was also slotted to be part of the Indian team (which unfortunately didn’t make it to the competition due to technical reasons) at 2019 Australian Canoe Slalom Open. The 19-year-old who currently trains teenagers in kayaking has her eyes on the Canoe Slalom World Cup in Bratislava, Slovakia, which is believed to be one of the toughest tracks around the globe.

Ashish Rawat

Being born in Rishikesh, on the banks of river Ganga has come as a blessing for Ashish’s career. “I was working at a raft company and over time developed a passion for the outdoor activity,” says Ashish. During his past four years as a kayaker, this 21-year-old has attended and been on the podium of gatherings like Ladakh River Festival and National Kayaking Championship, Uttarkashi. Currently working as a certified raft guide, he is keen on sprints as well as slalom and hopes to head to the US to participate in the renowned North Fork Championship in the future. 

At Tusharagiri, from July 26 - 28.