All aboard!

May 24, 2012, 07:00 IST | Surekha S

Water sport enthusiasts in Mumbai can rejoice in these last few weeks before the rain gods descend. Stand-up paddle boarding, which involves loads of excitement, adventure and exercise, has caught on as a popular sport across the world. Now, Mumbaikars can soak in the same thrills, right here on the Arabian Sea's waters off Chowpatty

When we first heard that it was possible to try out stand-up paddle boarding in the city, we were a little surprised and unsure whether it would be a smooth sail, after all. We were convinced somewhat after a quick browse of images of the activity posted online. Yet, the skepticism hadn’t left us entirely, as we headed out one sunny May afternoon to test the waters at Rae Sport Academy, which is part of H2O in Chowpatty.

Practicing on the larger surf board.

Water world
I approached Girgaum Chowpatty (a venue we may have visited on numerous occasions since childhood) only to notice that the water was surprisingly clean. As I spotted people steering motorboats and paddling kayaks, an instinctive feeling crept in that as a Mumbaikar, such activities might have been ignored for way too long.

Trying to balance on the SUP

Wasting no more time, I geared up to try out this adventurous sport. I wasn’t feeling my bravest best as I marched towards my instructor for the day, Rajiv Bhatia, and quickly informed him of my lack of practice in the swimming department. Bhatia, who is the owner of Rae Sport Academy, assured me that he had trained many non-swimmers with ease and there was no need to panic. I strapped on my life jacket, which I learnt, is also called a Personal Floatation Device, and can keep a person afloat for about six hours. Having heard this, the tension began to ease off; I was ready to take my first steps in this water sport.

Entering the water with instructor Rajiv Bhatia (right)

Get a grip
Bhatia informed that candidates need to sign up for eight-day sessions, of one hour each to learn the sport. But this would be a teaser session, of nearly two hours. First up, I had to hop on to a wind surfboard, which is broader than the actual Stand-Up Paddle board or SUP. I entered the water, first sitting on the board and rowing with the paddle. After I became more comfortable, I decided to stand up and attempt the sport as it is supposed to be done. Since, this session was conducted in the evening, the winds were strong and I kept drifting away, not to mention losing my balance a couple of times. But, soon enough I was able to get a grip of proceedings and learnt to balance myself on it. I was paddling without too much difficulty in a while (It’s easier for women to balance than for men!).

The Stand Up Paddle board  measures about 10 feet in height. Pics/Bipin Kokate

Seaside story
Now, that I was comfortable on the broader board, I had to make the switch to the real SUP. This seemed like an uphill task and I fell into the water a few times. But the good part of this exercise was that I wasn’t afraid of falling into the water any more. When I gained my balance and stood up on the SUP and paddled on, I was able to, for the first time, actually marvel at the stunning Mumbai skyline from the middle of the sea. The enchanting view made the falling in the water worth the experience. The tranquility that this view offered was memorable and beyond compare. Tired but happy, I walked back towards the shore, about an hour and a half later. A sense of calm prevailed. It was one of the most fun experiences that the mind and body had been part of, in a long time. Water enthusiasts are bound to give this one a thumbs-up. 

What is paddle boarding?
Stand Up Paddle Boarding, also called SUP, is a water sport that is believed to have originated in Hawaii. In the early 1960’s boys would stand on long boards to take photographs of tourists while they surfed the waves. These were the early days of paddle boarding. In this sport, one needs to paddle while standing on a long board or the stand-up paddle board. The advantage is that you get to see the entire landscape from a higher viewpoint while standing in the middle of water. The SUP is usually between 9 to 12 feet in height and 30 inches in width. Paddles are made from carbon, fibreglass or wood.

Paddle boarding at Rae Sports Academy
This academy is one of the very few places in the country to offer Stand-Up Paddle Boarding classes. You need to sign up for eight sessions of one hour each. It is preferable to take the first three sessions at a stretch after which it can be done over weekends. The eight sessions should be completed in a month or at the most, a month and a half. On completion, candidates will be awarded certificates from the Academy. The season for this sport is between October to end of May. You can also buy SUPs from the academy. They cost between Rs 60,000 to a lakh.

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