Interview with pro kayaker Kaustubh Khade: "It is an unbelievable feeling to represent India"
The sport of kayaking has gained plenty of popularity in India over the past few years. There are groups spread across the country that offer training to kayak enthusiasts, of which there are many.
Meet Kaustubh Khade, an IITian turned kayaker. Kaustubh took up the sport as a challenge and is now one of India’s top pro-kayakers. KK, as he is fondly called by his friends, is on a mission to get into the history books as he gears up to explore the most breathtaking rapids in India.
He spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda on his experiences so far and what lies ahead of him in 2015.
Excerpts of the interview:
What made you choose kayaking?
It is quite a funny story actually. I was in Goa. Me and my friends were on a motorboat chasing dolphins. We felt the motorboat was scaring the dolphins away. So , we got down and got a double-kayak and kayaked about two kilometers. Oddly enough, my friend got scared when a dolphin came near us. That is when I fell in love with kayaking.
On my way back, I stopped at a boat show in Panjim and decided to buy a kayak. There was a chap who was selling used kayaks. I thought he could give me a better deal, so I approached him. The first thing he asked me: “Do you know how to Kayak?”. I was caught off guard. I said, Of course. I have kayaked twice in my life. Once in Goa and once in Rishikesh in a river kayak.
He said “Why don’t you come to Mumbai? I will train you how to kayak. Going forward, you can buy a kayak.” I agreed . That is how I started Kayaking and I have been practising it for the past five years now.
From IIT to kayaking, what has been the journey like? Were your parents always supportive of the move?
My parents have always been pro-sports. Even while I was studying for IIT-JEE entrance exam, my father asked me to play football. They never had an issue with me taking up any sport. When I was working in a company, I had to take part in a kayaking competition. It was also the time for my promotion, my boss came up to me and said: “I will move you to category manager from product manager.”
I told my parents about it and they were very happy about it. My mother came up to me later and said: “Do what your heart says. Do not worry about these appraisals. They will always come and go.”
In a way, they have always backed me to give my best in what I choose to do.
Do you have a day job or are pursuing kayaking full-time?
I have a day job. I kayak when I get time off work since. If there’s a championship coming up, I have to take leaves to train for the event. Luckily, my boss has been supportive of my decisions. I have taken a sabbatical from work from the past three months and training hard.
What are the challenges that you faced when you started off kayaking?
For the first year, I took it up as a recreational sport. I used to kayak only once or twice a week. One of my friends told me they were forming a team and a national championship was around the corner. They wanted me in the team.
We started training very exhaustively for the championship. There were 15 teams from all over India that took part in the tournament and we finished fourth. It was an incredible feat considering the fact that we started training just four months before the national championship. Some of the best paddlers from our team were selected to the national team.
Was there a specialist coach when you started off or learnt the sport from your friends you had some experience behind them?
There were specialist coaches when I began kayaking. They make you do all the drills that are needed to perfect your skills as a paddler. I am now a International Canoe Federation (ICF) certified coach. I train people interested in dragon boat racing. There’s also Maharashtra Boat and bath club in Mumbai which has been active since the last 80 years. These guys have been canoeing and kayaking for years.
The training and technique is derived from years and years of experience of the paddlers of the club.
Speaking of canoeing, how is it different from kayaking?
It is very different. In canoeing, you keep your knees beneath you. Some canoes allow people to kneel as well. In kayaking, one should keep their legs in front of them or kneel.
Canoe paddles are one sided and the user pushes water on one side, then another. Kayak paddles are two sided and the user spends less time between strokes and thus achieves higher speeds in short periods of time.
What was it like to represent India at the International Asian Dragon Boat Championship in Thailand?
It was very different from everything we had done and trained for earlier. We won six silver and three bronze medals there. We had a national camp for about 15 days before we went there. The extra push that you get during the last few meters of a race is unbelievable and that you are actually representing your country makes you put in that extra effort.
How is the experience of working with 12-time World Surfski champion Oscar Chalupsky?
It is amazing. I will tell you two funny stories. One is of the training itself. This man is phenomenal. He won 12 World titles, but he could have achieved a lot more. At the peak of his career, South Africa were banned in taking part in competitions due to Apartheid system.
He has a brilliant aura about him. He knows exactly what he’s doing. When we were at the training camp, there were 25-30 paddlers from across India who had come down for this camp. We had these six kayaks and each of us were divided into batches to train. Oscar beat each batch quite comfortably.
For the next week, the training got intense. I was using my upper body in my training schedules earlier. I could literally feel strain in my calves as he completely changed the way look at it. He showed us how to use the lower body effectively and gain speed while doing so.
It is incredible to see Oscar perform like this at this age. He is now 51 years old. He won his 12th World title at 49. The man is an inspiration for any kayak paddler. The good thing about him is he is very approachable, down to earth and he has a single minded dedication towards kayaking which is very important.
Tell us a bit more about the record you are going to attempt.
It is for the longest solo sea kayak by an Indian. I am going to kayak for 500 Km out in the sea.
What has the preparation been like for the record attempt, in terms of diet and exercise routines?
It is pretty rigorous. I work with my physio for two weeks to get back into competition fitness. I left archery for a while to concentrate on core fitness.
My physio talked about the work that needed to be done on my back. I train in the water for five days a week. The remaining two days are spent in the gym working on weights. It is a combination of speed and endurance. I kayak for three days at a stretch. I add half hour to the training schedule every week.
I am also particular about the routes I choose to kayak. Some routes are suited for slower paddling, while others allow you to paddle quicker. I am also doing altitude training. If I do two hours on the water, one hour will be for altitude training. I put on the high altitude mask ( at about 4500 m), acclimatize to the oxygen and build up endurance.
Me and my physio sit and discuss the timing, what took most time and how to improve upon the timing next time.
You are looking for sponsorship opportunities. From a company’s perspective, how would they benefit if they associate with you?
There are two ways of looking at this. One if for a short duration - the Mumbai-Goa kayak, while the goal for 2015 is All- India kayaking of about 7500 Km.
Unlike most events that last for a day or at most five days, This is a 20-day event. The lead-up to it is much bigger than the event itself. At the moment, I have got two months to launch from here. In terms of visibility, there is a lot of coverage on Overdrive, Times of India, Hindustan Times and everyone is excited as this is the first time someone is attempting this.
I went from Marine drive to Bhajiwali and the crowds were excited to see a kayak out of nowhere. I am ready to sell the space on the kayak, the space on the apparel to the sponsors. There will also be an additional safety crew which is going to be a boat or a land crew will also have branding all across it.
There are opportunities for nutrition brands as well. They can put up hoardings across the venue and it does reach out to a fair number of people. The companies can use the whole sea to market their products.
How does the sport of kayaking reach out to more people in India?
There are many kayaking festivals that happen across India. The Malabar river festival was a huge success in Kerala recently. Manali in Himachal Pradesh is known for kayaking. People in Karnataka were doing an awareness drive in a river. They asked me to be a part of it.
People are opening up to kayaking and the paddling community is growing in India. We want more people involved to take the sport across the nation. The local media should also play a role in popularising the sport.
If someone wants to start kayaking as a recreation sport or take it up professionally, where do they start?
The good thing about kayaking is that it is not an expensive sport. The cost of the kayak is not very high and it will last a lifetime. One size fits all equipment. India has no dearth of space where one can kayak. We have lot of rivers, lakes and other water bodies in our country.
There is no shortage of places where people can kayak. You could do it in backwaters. Every resort now has a kayak. There are people who will train you in the sport.
The record you are going to attempt is not an easy one. A lot of preparation goes into it. What keeps you going? Is there any sportsperson you look up to for motivation?
Absolutely. This is how my regular day looks like. I wake up at 6:30 a.m. I freshen up and travel about 35 km which takes about an hour. I am in the water for two-three hours. I get off the water around 12:30 p.m.
I travel 35 km back and look after other things like media commitments, sponsorship, logistics for the trip. It is pretty exhaustive and fun. There is something new to learn everyday.
In terms of motivation, there are two or three people. One is Freya Hoffmeister, the first woman to complete circumnavigation of Australia solo and unassisted. Journalist Joe Glickman has documented Hoffmeister's Australian journey in his book Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent. It is a must read. It inspired me to attempt this record and then extend it to all over India.
You can follow Kaustubh on facebook here