How far are you willing to go and push your limits? Would you be ready to chase the thrill of 200 sky-dives for the honour of donning a wingsuit and taking flight off the edge of a cliff? Battle ferocious white water rapids down waterfalls and gorges? Willingly risk your life at every high-speed turn down dirt mountain roads as you race against reality? Chances are, a huge majority of you just shook your heads to all of the above and in truth, that probably makes you…normal. Even though most people who participate in such activities report profound and positive life changes when they do, not all of us are fearless enough to do it.
For the longest time, the world has looked to adventure sports trailblazers with a mixture of admiration and confusion. Wondered what it is that motivates them to relentlessly plough their way through uncharted territories, often at great personal risk. In India, where exposure to this world is still nascent, to say the least, people who seek such paths as their chosen ones are even more difficult to come by. Yet there’s no denying that a whole breed of sky-conquering, ocean-exploring, line-teetering adventure sports athletes are making their presence felt and they’re pushing human and societal limits every day.
Suffice to say, these people are usually driven by the challenge, the rush that comes with pushing oneself and it’s exactly this rush that The Vibe’s new web series aims to capture as it follows the stories of seven Indian adventure sports athletes who are truly forging new paths.
The film, shot over 30 days in various parts of the country, capture’s India’s breathtaking landscape while capturing these fearless men in the flesh as they share their passion for their chosen sports even as they perform them for us. Homegrown delved deeper into their lives to present the trials, tribulations and triumphs of their journey in a country that’s only just beginning to grapple with its own potential. Read on to know more about India’s homegrown adrenaline junkies and watch the episodes to feel the rush yourself.
I. Udit Thapar, 31
Conquering The Skies
Taking The Leap
It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Udit Thapar! The son of a military parachutist, Udit Thapar was only 13 when his father took him for his first solo parachute jump. Somewhere between flying, falling and opening his chute, Udit Thapar knew that he was born to fly. Today, many years later that is exactly what he is doing. Conquering the skies as a commercial air pilot with a leading Indian airline, a microlight pilot, a paragliding pilot, he confesses that nothing gives him the kind of rush that wingsuit flying does.
Unlike any other form of flying, after wearing a wingsuit, the body transforms into an aerofoil which restricts body movements, thus making it all the more challenging. “Most operators need participants to have a minimum of 200 skydives and a good skill set and body awareness. However, this sports enables gliding and covering large distances- which is my favourite part. This is not possible in the conventional skydiving,” he explains to The Vibe.
Though Udit always knew that he wanted to fly, it didn’t come easy. While training to fly in the States, he had to work many odd jobs and save up to be able to make more jumps and train as a wingsuit flier. Today, Udit competes in international events and was ranked 19th at the World Cup 2017. Though he still feels a little anxious before his competitions, he states that flying high in the sky never scared him. He says, “Statistically, it is safer to skydive than to ride a motorbike in Delhi. Another myth is that it’s scary, to be honest, it is not scary at all, it just looks the part. It’s a thrill.”
Wingsuit Flying In India
The sport is an unconventional one in India, however, Udit has high hopes for it. It is quite surprising that last year at the World Cup, there were three participants from India. This year there are set to be 5.
Rushes, in their episode ‘Fall Union’ tracks Udit Thapar as he goes about wingsuit jumping from an elevation of 4000m over the desert skies of Rajasthan. To see the episode click here. To read the full interview with the Vibe, click here.
II. Vinay Menon, 36
Downhill Mountain Biking
The road to happiness is not always paved.
Taking The Leap
Vinay found himself getting obsessed with mountain bike magazines of the 90s, TV telecast on motocross, mountain biking and BMX in his early teens. He and his friends would often ride through cross-country trails, and shuffle and experiment with bike frames and parts. Thus by the time he became a young adult, he thought it would be more lucrative for him to attend the classrooms in the hills rather than those in his college. Soon with the help of his friend who stayed in the US and support from his family he was able to procure a downhill mountain bike. “ Having the right tool for the job, my dirty deeds off big cliffs got fuelled further,” he tells The Vibe.
Downhill mountain biking is a genre of mountain biking practised on steep, rough terrain that often features jumps, drops, rock gardens and other obstacles. Downhill bikes are heavier and stronger than other mountain bikes and feature front and rear suspension to glide quickly over rocks and tree roots. Vinay follows the ‘Freeride’ method of mountain biking. “ Like an artist, it’s the simple interpretation of style and creativity of a rider on his/her bike down the mountain. It involves steep lines, big cliff drops, big airs and even tech freestyle tricks these days,” he explains.
With limited resources, undeveloped structures and fewer fundings, there are perhaps more man-made obstacles that Vinay had to face than the natural ones. However, he continued, testing his skills in random hills and mountains fearlessly, without keeping time or chasing medals and trophies. Though he admits getting nervous, this is also the rush he digs. Today, he is not just India’s only downhill biking professionals but also runs the freeridermag.in and the Psynyde brand of bikes and components.
Downhill Mountain Biking In India
Downhill Mountain Biking in India had been non-existent before Vinay pioneered the sport along with other BMX movements in India. Today, their small community organises events. However, things are slowly looking up with awareness about the sport through social media and with international bicycle brands coming to India to support athletes.
Rushes, in their episode ‘Tea And Tyres’ tracks Vinay Menon as he goes downhill mountain biking while navigating the beautiful hills and tea plantations of Valaparai, Tamil Nadu. To see the episode click here. To read the full interview with the Vibe, click here.
III. Bhupendra Singh Rana, 33
Taking The Leap
For many, taking a dip in the Ganges is ultimate salvation. For Bhupendra, it was the first source of inspiration. Brought up in the holy town of Rishikesh which is now redefining itself as India’s adventure destination, Bhupendra took up kayaking early in his life. As a child, he would often watch Kayakers battle the rapids all day. It did not take him a lot of time to realise that this was his calling. Braving the gushing white water rapids, Bhupendra became the only river guide in India to hold a certification from Rescue 3 International. He was the first Indian to compete in the ‘Adidas Sickline Extreme Kayak World Championship,’ in Austria 2012.
Paddling on rivers, lakes and oceans is as old as the Stone Age. Whitewater kayaking is the sport of paddling a kayak on a moving body of water, typically a whitewater river. “Planning is the key when running waterfalls. I scout above, during, and below the waterfall and then devise a plan of action. I plan out my lines and try to stay on that line and angles when I run the waterfalls. While falling over the cliff, all I am thinking about is to just land correctly and waiting for the impact on my body,” he tells the Vibe.
For someone who earns money out of an unconventional water sport, it requires not just skill-building and hour of training but also will-power and lots of discipline. “When pushing your limit, it is also important to know your own limits, prepare well and think about the consequences. Extreme kayaking shows no mercy if you mess it up,” he explains to The Vibe.
Kayaking In India
Though the sport is picking up, it still needs quite a push. India is blessed with natural rapids and waterfalls with many unexplored rivers and thick forest covers - thus India has huge potential to build talent for Kayaking. Bhupinder is contributing in his own way by having initiated the Ganga Kayak Festival — an annual International kayak festival that takes place at the holy confluence of rapids at Devprayag, Uttarakhand in February. This is the place where the mighty Ganga (Ganges) forms after the confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda rivers. Other festivals include The Malabar Fest (Kerala in July), Ladakh Kayak Festival (Ladakh in August) and Kali River Festival (Karnataka in July). Bhupinder is also the founder of Rescue India - the first water and rope rescue training company based in Rishikesh, India.
Rushes, in their episode ‘Home Waters’ tracks Bhupinder Rana as he kayaks through the white water rapids of Rishikesh while making a 30-feet-fall through a cascading waterfall. To see the episode click here. To read the full interview with the Vibe, click here.
IV. Samar Farooqui, 27
Slack Lining and Highlining
Walking tight ropes
Taking The Leap
Unlike most other people on our list, Samar Farooqi took on the sport quite late in his life when he went to pursue a Diploma in Adventure Tourism Management in the adventure Capital of the world, Queenstown. Being introduced to the sport by a kiteboarder-friend Jehan Driver (who also features on our list) in India, before moving to New Zealand, Samar after years of persistence represented the slacklining team in the Queenstown American Express Winter festival. 3 years into slacklining and having conducted some events in New Zealand, he decided that he wanted to be a professional Slackliner in India, promote the sport here and make a living through it.
Highlining is slacklining at an elevation above the ground or water. Many slackliners consider highlining to be the pinnacle of the sport. Modern highline rigging typically entails a mainline of webbing, backup webbing, and either climbing rope or amsteel rope for redundancy. “I opted for slacklining over skydiving because I could bring this sport to people, unlike skydiving where I needed to take people to the airstrip to dive. One can slackline right in your building lawn or elsewhere within the city. Besides the physical and mental benefits, the sport is a lot of fun,” Samar tells The Vibe.
Challenges weren’t there at all, to begin with when he was practising the sport as a hobby. Initially, he would approach event management companies to get slacklining as a part of their event to engage crowds and give them a better experience. The first thing they would ask me was: “what is slacklining?”. So creating awareness was perhaps the hardest part. As time went by, people/ newspapers noticed what he wanted to do then the job got easier. Funding does not come easy as well but somehow Samar continues to make a name for himself while representing the country in tournaments abroad. Walking on ropes in between mountains, trees, across rivers, he has done it all and achieved unbelievable balance. Reportedly, Samar also went slacklining with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon.
Highlining In India
Samar continues to put in efforts for getting the sport recognized in the country. According to him, India has huge untapped potential as can be seen at slacklining hotspots in India. These spots are Lonavla, Nashik, Badami, Hampi, Rishikesh, Hauz Khas Village Park in New Delhi, Pushpa Nursery Park in Juhu in Mumbai on most Sundays, and probably Cubbon Park in Bangalore. He wishes to go a pan-India tour setting up spots for slacklining and highlining and seeks funding from a brand for the same.
Rushes, in their episode ‘Toe The Line’ tracks Samar Farooqi as he highlines at a height of 47 m between two cliffs of Bedaghat over a gushing river on a 44 m long rope. To see the episode click here. To read the full interview with the Vibe, click here.
V. Sumer Verma, 43
Scuba Diver & Underwater Photographer
Life deep down under
Taking The Leap
In search of solace, Sumer Verma started diving in 1997, when he went on a holiday to Lakshadweep. Right after getting into diving, it was most natural to photograph and film the beautiful creatures.“It was an extension of my love for the ocean and diving. There was no real thought behind it when I first started - it was just fun. I began filming in 1998 because I only had access to a video camera. I did that for a couple of years before starting underwater photography,” Sumer tells Homegrown. Having documented and captured the marine life at its best for some of the leading publications in the world, today Sumer is one of the most sought after underwater explorers of the Sea. He is also a scuba-dive instructor with the Lacadives in Andamans and rallies actively for the cause of conservation.
Underwater photography is usually done while scuba diving but can be done while diving on surface supply, snorkelling, swimming, from a submersible or remotely operated underwater vehicle, or from automated cameras lowered from the surface. “The art of Underwater photography while diving is completely absorbing, challenging and changing - every dive is different. Different opportunities come by depending on the light, the water, the encounter with the creature all have a part to play,” he says.
One needs to respect the ocean - which sadly is not the case. Increasing mercury levels, overfishing, toxins are not just choking the marine eco-system, but also hampering the process of documenting it in all its naturalness. Thus Sumer uses his work to spread awareness about conservation. He says, “No one knows what lies below the sea, because they can’t see it and so no one cares. People are so distracted by their own reality via social media, phones, and Facebook. I feel that anything one can do to inspire people is necessary. It doesn’t even start with underwater photography - it starts with scuba diving. You see it for yourself, experience it for yourself and you are bound to be transformed to be environmentally conscious towards one particular thing because you have fallen in love with some element of it,” he adds.
Underwater Photography & Diving In India
The sport, as well as the art, are slowly gaining a stronghold in the country. With a vast coastline, this can be developed not just as a sport but also a method to spread awareness. He explains to The Vibe, “Youth is now seeking this as an option. With such interest, ocean conservation too shall get an impetus.” Diving hotspots in India include Pondicherry, Vizag, and Goa as well.
VI & VII. Arjun Mohta, 29 & Jehan Driver
Braving the winds
Taking The Leap
Ever since he was a little child, Arjun Mohta was obsessed with flying kites in the local beach. However, it was only in 2012 when the 23-year-old athlete stumbled upon kiteboarding in Spain for the very first time. Driven by curiosity, Arjun soon discovered a vibrant kiteboarding scene in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu. Thereafter, he never looked back. TodayMotha runs the Aqua Outback is a travel-adventure company that specialises in adventure experiences such as kiteboarding, kayaking, snorkelling, cultural visits, camping and expeditions.
Jehan Driver had early beginnings. His involvement in developing Quest Expeditions Pvt. Ltd, a company that brings patrons on awe-inspiring journeys and across authentic experiences began in 1995 when he was still in the final years of school. At the time he was working as an outdoor field guide for the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme (DEAS) and always dreamed of balancing his lifestyle with his passion- kitesurfing. Thereafter he travelled the length and the breadth of the country to explore the sport.
Both Arjun and Jehan are considered pioneers of this extreme sport in the country.
Kiteboarding is an action sport combining aspects of wakeboarding, snowboarding, windsurfing, surfing,
paragliding, skateboarding and sailing into one extreme sport. On the water, a kiteboard is similar to a wakeboard or a small surfboard, with or without foot-straps or bindings, is used. Kitesurfing is a style of kiteboarding specific to wave riding, which uses standard surfboards or boards shaped specifically for the purpose. On land, a mountain board or foot steered buggy is used while skis or snowboards can be used in snow.
For a perfect kiteboarding experience, the speed, distance, skills, the size of the kite, and the direction of winds need to be perfect. Thus this is a sport that not only involves correct balance and skill, but also lots of luck. Thus challenges more often than not are natural. Overcoming these both players have made a mark for themselves internationally. Mohta has participated in Indian competitions that have attracted people from as far away as Sri Lanka, Costa Rica and France whereas Jehan is one of India’s only kite-surfing instructors.
Kitesurfing In India
Currently, a thriving kiteboarding scene exists in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu and has more potential. India’s vast coastlines, varying wind cycles, pristine beauty and abundance of resources make it the prime spot for kitesurfing in India.
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