For the sake of water, one paddle at a time
Kumaran, a three-time record holder in paddling, has been working towards conservation and sustainability
CHENNAI: If the 2004 movie ‘Without a paddle’ had cast Kumaran Mahalingam in the lead, the plot would have been a lot different. With plenty of paddles in hand and being a geologist, he would have ensured no one got lost in the wilderness as the original plot spans out. Kumaran is a three-time record holder in the Limca Book of Records, founder of Paddle for future, a stand up paddling programme that aims to spread awareness and conserve the water bodies in the city and a geologist dealing with oil and gas explorations in Gurgaon when he’s not stand-up paddling in Chennai on the weekends. Paddle for future organises Weekend Chennai, a weekly stand-up paddling event which offers the opportunity to explore the water bodies of the city while spreading awareness about their conversation.
Offering a glance into his journey, Kumaran says, “I have always been passionate about nature. I used to avail every opportunity for outdoor explorations and have done numerous treks and solo bullet rides.” His love for exploration into nature saw him venturing into the field of geology. At a time when Google maps was unheard of, Kumaran explored the country using topography maps.
In 2014, he happened to visit Bay of Life Surf School in Kovalam. “Since the sea was choppy that day, Shaukat Jamal, founder of Bay of Life took me to a quarry where I tried paddle boarding for the first time in my life. It was a life changing moment for me,” recalls Kumaran. “Unlike surfing, which requires you to wait for a wave, with stand up paddling, you are always at the reins.” There are two kinds of stand up paddle boards, hard and inflatable. Kumaran prefers the inflatable kind because of its transportability.
Kumaran set his first Limca Record by paddling 7.35 km into the ocean in 90 minutes. After that, he set out to promoting the sport in the country. He used geology to map out water bodies in the country and in July 2016, set his second record for longest paddle boarding in Andhra Pradesh on the Godavari river by paddling 31 km in three hours. His third record is for stand-up paddle boarding on most number of water bodies by an individual for performing 58 trips on 19 different waterbodies, 17 in India and one each in Sri Lanka and Malaysia, covering a distance of 484 km as of June 2016.
In 2016, he chanced upon an advertisement calling for a team to stand up paddle boarding the entire length of the Ganges and leapt at the opportunity. “I took on the role of conservation specialist and navigator for the team, thanks to my geology background. We crossed five states covering 2,700 km in 101 days in a first time stand up boarding conquest of the Ganges. I spotted 867 dolphins (Platanista gangetica) in a first-ever recording of the species. This was supported by WWF India and is being aired on Discovery, weekly by Namami Ganges,” grins Kumaran.
He wanted to make a sustainable model in the city by connecting stand up paddling and conservation of waterbodies. “Upon mapping the water bodies in the city over the past decade, I was shocked to see the alarming rate at which they were disappearing. After some research, I concluded that the reason, apart from pollution, was that people were not using these water bodies directly. In the past they were preserved because people depended on them for washing, fishing, bathing etc. but that was changing. I decided to raise awareness through stand up paddle boarding to combat the situation, “ he explains.As a part of this mission, Kumaran has also visited more than 3,000 school children to highlight the importance of conserving water bodies. Kumaran has also integrated WOGA (Water yoga) which is the practice of performing yoga on a floating paddle board.
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