Windsurfers and kiteboarders set to dazzle on the water at the first all India championship in Chennai  

And the stakes are high because winners will go on to qualify for the Asian Games later this year
Arjun Motha in his element
Arjun Motha in his element

Freedom starts at 20 knots. That’s the ideal ‘level of windy’ for a day out on the ocean as a windsurfer, we find out ahead of the All India Windsurfing & Kiteboarding Championship 2023 that will kick off at Kovalam today. Following the inauguration on Thursday, the three-day event hosted by the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association and Chennai Sailing Academy promises to be a visual spectacle with a kaleidoscope of kites and sails dotting the waters of the Surf Turf beach for anyone making the drive down the ECR this weekend. Meanwhile, for the 40 top athletes who will be competing across 12 races, chasing the wind, is thrill enough. But the stakes are higher than ever this year as this is also a ranking event for the Asian Games slated for September this year. Another compelling reason is the Paris Olympics in 2024 which will debut two new sailing events — the iQFOIL windsurfing and the IKA Formula Kite.
Ajit Diaz, who is the president of the Chennai Sailing Association and holds the accolade of being the only Indian to be qualified in world sailing as an international measurer, tells us there will be representation from more than 15 states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pune, Bhopal and Odisha. This will include 14 clubs including the Indian Army and Navy Sailing Clubs, all of whom have been training intensely over the last several months. “We have a broad spectrum of ages from 17 upwards. There is even a 61-year-old kite boarder from Goa who is participating,” Ajit says.

Ajit is also one of the founder members of the Tamil Nadu Sailing Association, the state federation for the sport of sailing in Tamil Nadu. The ranking for international competitions, however, like the 
Asian Games, is authorised by the Yachting Association of India which is the federation for the sport in India and administered by the Indian Navy under the stewardship of its president who is the Chief of Naval Staff. “So we’re expecting some fierce competition,” he shares.

<em>Windsurfers out on the ocean</em>
Windsurfers out on the ocean

Off to the races
Here is what to expect. Every day, four races will be held back-to-back. The positions of each participant will be recorded by a Race Committee on the water. At the end of the event, the  performance on all three days will be totalled and the positions for gold, silver and bronze will be calculated for each class. For Windsurfing, the classes are: iQFOIL (Olympic Class & Asian Games), RS: X (Asian Games), RS: One (Under 19) and Raceboard (mixed class). For Kiteboarding, the classes are: Formula Kite (Olympic & Asian Games) and Twin Tip Kite ( for all).  

<em>Dayne Coelho in action</em>
Dayne Coelho in action

Wave of change 
College students to fishermen to army officers — the athletes this weekend also come from varied backgrounds. We spoke to Arjun Motha, who has been training a number of them at his watersports academy and resort, Aqua Outback, in Tuticorin. “When I went to Vietnam to get certified as an instructor in 2017, I remember there were three to four people who could teach kite boarding in India,” he recalls. “But now that we have places you can learn at and access to equipment, there are about 10 instructors and we’ve personally trained close to 150 people.”

What it takes
Getting started, in case you are wondering, comes with a short two week course. But the cost of equipment, should you want to buy your own, starts at Rs 50,000, while specialised racing gear can be as expensive as five lakh. That said, Arjun shares that the learning conditions for the sport are ideal in his hometown of Tuticorin offering tremendous scope for this nascent sport to grow and develop in our home state. “You need two things: shallow water  for ease of teaching and 15 to 25 knots of wind for a good eight months a year, and we have both!” he shares.

<em>Shyam Rao on the water</em>
Shyam Rao on the water

Chasing the wind
This brings us to an important question: How do you track the wind? Goa-based Derrick Menezes, who has been winning national windsurfing championships since the ’80s tells us that different places have their own wind systems.  But today, with modern tech, he says, “It’s as easy as downloading an app like Windy or Windfinder to give you a week’s forecast. At 61, he is the most senior competitor in the races and says  passion is what keeps him coming back. But for anyone who has never experienced the ‘wind beneath their board’ before, perhaps Arjun sums up the feeling best: “The best way to describe freedom is kiteboarding. It allows me to understand this invisible force, wind, explore coastlines, catch waves, ride over crystal clear lagoons and most importantly, it let’s me fly high! I go where the wind blows...”

At Surf Turf, Kovalam. May 12 to 14. 2 pm to 6 pm.

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