The weekend adventure junkie

How many likes did your last weekend trip get you on Facebook? Adventure sport organisers spill the beans on what makes city professionals want to jump off cliffs, go zorbing down hills and get dragged around by a jet ski. Looking cool online is big business

The Monday morning blues follow you through Twitter updates that lament the weekend that sped away and curse the next five days. Facebook updates abound with pictures of happy faces smiling in unison, 'Kodak moments' of couples canoodling on white sand beaches, and tipsy friends raising their glasses to you from your Facebook wall. You don't have to have 900 'friends' on your list to know at least a handful of people who have planned their next profile picture even before it's clicked. The same people are also usually the ones who flood your timeline with pictures and updates of crab and shrimp fishing expeditions on the weekends, followed by a barrage of comments and 'likes'.

Jehan Driver takes us through kite surfing at Mandwa beach off
Mumbai. Pic/ Shadab Khan

That's partly the reason why Regan Rodricks, founder of BlueBulb, an experience retail company, started a two-hour street-fighting workshop that taught participants to fight with artificial samurai swords, knives and how to defend themselves against attackers a month ago. "Our street-fighting class, however, is a quick fix -- in two hours you are flipping your opponent on his belly. It's got more action," he says, comparing it to their workshops for Kalaripayattu, a Kerala-based martial art form whose learning process is slow. "You start with the yatari, stance, etc, and it will probably be a year before you get to even pick up a weapon," says the 33 year-old. But that's not good enough for Facebook, is it?

Show-value adventure
A former advertising professional, Rodricks started the company a year ago and offers around 30 activities including mountain biking, belly dancing, kickboxing, archery, pottery and golf. "Eighty per cent of our bookings are done by women and we get a lot of requests to start new activities even though they haven't tried the activities that already exist. The point is to be the first amongst your friends to try it. It has to be adventurous and 'new'. We started a hula hoop workshop and a scuba diving event at Khopoli on popular request," he explains. The one-day scuba diving session costs Rs 5,499 and will get you a PADI Open Water Certification for a confined dive (pool) and deep-sea dives. "Strangely, parkour (which involves jumping over walls and obstacles in an urban setting) isn't too popular with customers because at the end of the day, you can't put parkour in a photo frame," he laughs.

Coin collecting is so passe
Jehan Driver, director with Quest Expeditions Pvt Ltd, talks to us while harnessed to an inflatable kite, hopping as the kite catches the wind and squinting through the sunlight on Mandwa beach, a 90-minute ferry ride from the Gateway of India. After studying commerce and working in a bank for three months, he decided to pursue a diploma in Adventure Tourism Management at Queenstown Resort College in New Zealand and began the Mumbai chapter of the adventure sports company four years ago.

Ira Prem holds up an eel for a photo finish to her crab-fishing
trip organised by BlueBulb

Their newest activity -- kite surfing, where the rider is propelled across the water or on sand with a surfboard with the power of the wind -- costs Rs 10,000 per person for a two-day programme. "There are more than 300 adventure tourism operators in Maharashtra, but they are extremely localised. The yuppie audience today wants a quick thrill and has the money to pursue such hobbies. Equipment is available in Mumbai itself and if you have your own kite you can surf at any beach in the state without any permissions," explains Driver, who got his training for kite surfing in Thailand.

That would appeal to Powai-resident Ira Prem and her husband, who aren't looking for a new hobby, but attend one-day weekend sessions of the latest "cool" adventure activity every month. In January, the duo participated in a one-day crab fishing session at Kolad, shelling out Rs 1,149. "I like to do activities that will take me out of the city and teach me something new at the same time. I don't like activities where the guide does all the work and you simply watch. I'd never been fishing and I could work this in my weekend schedule so it was a good idea," says 34 year-old Prem. Footfalls are high during weekends with a large number of new customers, but weekdays are occupied with "people who are really interested in the sport," says Driver.

Glamour is important
Rodricks agrees, "Jack of all trades, master of none used to be a negative idea before. Now the connotation has changed. People want to learn something new, but they don't necessarily want to learn how to do it well."
Gaurav Bhambri is the latest entrepreneur to get a piece of the pie with Juice Adventures, an adventure sports facility at Manori, a 15-minute ferry ride from Marve in Malad. The first to have a skateboarding arena, it offers "privilege activities" like a ride on the latest all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Of course, competitive prices like an all-day package for Rs 999 bring in the crowds. "We also plan to have activities that draw from local culture, like fishing using traditional methods and tree climbing. But it doesn't have the glamour element, so it won't be a crowd-puller," Bhambri admits.

Got fancy equipment?
Satish Radhakrishnan sits in a five-by-six feet cubicle at his Fort office, surrounded by thick books that depict expansive peaks and dangerous valleys. He works on bookings at his computer all day, but his mind is always on his next trek where he will accompany a group as a guide. A trained engineer, Radhakrishnan works with Odati Adventures Private Limited, a 10-year-old adventure tour company started by Jayesh Morvankar.

There are many reasons why people want to push their limits on an outdoor trek he explains. "They are confined to their offices and aren't involved with physically demanding work. Waterfall rappelling is a great way to get your adrenaline pumping which is also one of our most popular trips. The thrill is to be pounded by water as you descend the rocks." What's interesting is that women are usually more proactive about making inquiries and trying out new activities, while men are more consistent and will come back every month for activities they enjoy, says Radhakrishnan. "Corporate packages are planned to build camaraderie, teamwork and leadership skills, which is something you realise when you reach the summit and feel a rush of fulfillment. Business-wise too, they bring a greater number of customers."

Radhakrishnan too, is intrigued by the new rush for activities that are picture-friendly and will become a conversation-starter among friends. He says, "We profile trekkers to know if they can take a challenging trek with difficulty levels marked clearly on our website. One-upmanship is a key motivator, first-time trekkers will show up for a basic trek with all the latest gear and we aren't even sure if they will continue in the months to come."

Want an extreme rush? Read our guide on the best sports to try out
We bring you three extreme sports that are catching on around the world and may soon enter your activity calendar in the following months.  

Volcano Boarding
Racing down an active 2,380 ft volcano at speeds of 50 mph with only a board for protection is the latest sport for adventure junkies. Travellers head to the foothills of Nicaragua's Cerro Negro mountain every year with specially-constructed plywood boards to test the sands.

Underwater hockey
The sport was invented in Great Britain during the 1950s, when British divers were looking for ways to stay fit during the winter. The game is played using snorkelling equipment and a hockey stick at the bottom of the pool, with a puck that weighs a kilogramme. Not only do you have to score a goal with the puck, you also have to hold your breath and risk passing out. The sport is becoming increasingly popular around the world, with countries like Istanbul and Turkey even organising national championships.

Bridge climbing
Bridge climbing is an experience offered at Sydney that takes you to the summit of the world-famous Sydney Harbour bridge 134 metres above the sea. While you're up there, you can have a 360-degree view of Sydney, from the Sydney Opera House in the east, to the Blue Mountains in the west.

Four questions for
Darshan Mehta, President & CEO -- Reliance Brands limited on Quiksilver -- a sport lifestyle inspired brand

What exactly do you mean by a sport-inspired lifestyle brand and how did you know Mumbai was ready for it?
Quiksilver and Roxy stores are not for adventure sports, though these brands are inspired by 'boarding sports' -- snow boarding, surf boarding and skate boarding. There is a difference between adventure sports gear and sport-inspired brands. The former tends to be very technical in nature while the latter is lifestyle oriented. Let's take an analogy from Polo Ralph Lauren, which uses the Polo player as its Brand signature. It is very popular amongst richer consumers across the world, however less than 1 per cent of Polo Ralph Lauren users have ever viewed the sport, leave alone play it. India with its youthful demography, a cosmopolitan mindset, a digitally wired youth which is increasingly well travelled, offers a market with a huge potential.

What demography of customers do you cater to?
The brand essentially speaks to anyone who is young at heart, free-spirited, and adventurous with an unconventional bent of mind. The consumer is also very individualistic. Quiksilver caters to boys and Roxy to girls.

Which activities that are most popular?
Skate boarding is an upcoming urban sport, all over the world, catering to the customer psychograph and demography stated above. The fact that the Tony Hawk Show in Mumbai, without any form of food or beverage offering, had a crowd of 6,500, largely young boys and girls, in a city where there is no skate boarding park, speaks for itself.

Where do you see the industry going?
The sports lifestyle inspired fashion industry is the next big 'wave' that will engulf young Indians.

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