By M. Rajini
Meet Kumaran Mahalingam, a pioneer in India in Stand Up Paddling (SUP) with 3 Limca Records under his belt. A Geologist by profession, he made a seamless transition from riding the Paddle for fun to making it a tool for connecting people to water, and see for themselves the gravity of abuse in our water bodies. He spearheads Paddle for Future (PFF), a sustainable movement to protect inland water bodies through sport. His ‘Ganges Standup paddling’ expedition was broadcast on Discovery Channel. Kumaran unfurls his journey with the paddleboard as a student with Bay Of Life Surf & SUP School, Chennai to his recent divine experiences in the fjords of Norway, in his tete-a-tete with Adyar Times.
Your profile other than the sport.
I wished to graduate in Geology because I am a nature lover and had a fascination for hilly terrain. I visited Ariyalur near Tanjore, a geological paradise, while in college. The city was supposed to have been submerged in water millions of years ago and still has fossils of Dinosaur eggs. I found myself lured towards water slowly. Even before I completed my college I got a job with Cairn India, Major private player in Oil and Gas, in Gurgaon and am with the same company for the past 18 years.
So, where was the time for ‘Nature’?
My job was tailor-made for me. Most of these years, I worked on a 4-week work and 4-weeks off schedule in offshore oil rigs in sea. After learning the basics of SUP in 2014, I ventured into the sea on my paddleboard with the assistance of local fishermen who had amazing knowledge of the sea. On one such trip I had paddled 8 kms into the sea, by which I had unknowingly created a record. I had a habit of meticulously documenting every detail in my log. The National Surfing Federation accepted the log which was vouched by the accompanying Lifeguard cum Surf instructor Selvam. Limca Book of Records acknowledged this as a record. With all the excitement over my first Record, it dawned on me that this was my calling.
What was your 2nd Record?
That was for surveying maximum water bodies in the shortest time. I tried to paddle along the Buckingham Canal. I could paddle upto Satyabama College, beyond which it was all slushy. I could see industrial and chemical waste being emptied into the river at various places. Chennai region alone which had 620 water bodies 30 years back has only 20 percent of it now. This crime against Nature metamorphosed ‘Paddle for Me’ into ‘Paddle for Future’. I knew it was time to acquire some credibility and garner public support for conserving our environment using the Paddleboard as a tool.
Was it the Ganges expedition in 2016 which threw the limelight on you?
I am the first in the world to stand-up paddle a distance of 2,900 kilometres along the River Ganges in 101 days – 77 days of paddle and the rest in camping along the shore for recouping. It was a soul-filling experience in spite of battling rough waters. Rivers are dynamic. Sometimes we would encounter water where map shows land; we have to be careful while negotiating rapids and meanders. A small deviation might take us 80 kms off our route. We also needed to carry 30 kilos of camping gear, food, camera and other technical equipment.
How adventurous was it?
This was a multi-pronged mission. I used it as a platform to campaign for cleaner and safer rivers and also to dissuade people from using Single Use Plastics (SUP). In some remote villages of Bihar, Jharkhand where we had to camp, people were not touched by technology. Their lifestyle was 15 years behind. In slums near Kanpur, women were exploited so much and there were so many incidents of rape that they have taken it in their stride and can’t even complain.
This is First-ever recording of river Gangetic dolphins (Platanista Gangetica) by standup paddleboarding. A total of 900 dolphins were spotted and recorded during my expedition.
You have redefined the sport by creating a smart package of adrenaline- rush and empathy for the planet. Was it deliberate?
Yes. I made a conscious effort to inspire more people to care for our environment and also enjoy the adventure in our own backyard. I have reached more than 6500 school kids through my outdoor learning programmes. Paddle for Future aims to train people in water safety, Paddleboarding, camping basics, swimming, and snorkelling, and involve them in Lake Cleanup, sapling plantation and so on.
What future plans do you have?
I have been personally funding the activities of PFF spending 40% of my salary. Decathlon had sponsored 10 Paddle boards for us. Now I am going for a permanent base in Chennai and set up an Academy.
Kumaran Mahalingam can be reached at 99710 91541. Facebook – Instagram – Twitter ID – KumaranGeopaddler.
How safe is the sport for beginners?
We enroll even non-swimmers. I handpick people for PFF. I gauge their commitment and interest level with a parameter of 32 defined skill sets. New joinees are provided with a life jacket; they will be leashed to the board and they will always be accompanied by a buddy companion.
It is always one-to-one training and our team has excellent swimmers and trained life guards. I am a wilderness First Responder certified by National Outdoor Leadership School, United States.
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