Minutes earlier than getting dropped off mid-ocean at Kovalam (Covelong) for our first open water swimming lesson, Murthy Megavan, the founding father of Murthy Surf College, tells me that I’m to strap on my life jacket and wait at a spot 100 metres from the shore, marked solely by random bobbing waves.
“Simply chill out and speak to Syed,” he says, asking certainly one of his instructors lounging on a surfboard, to accompany me.
So I comply with directions, chatting with Syed about job losses, the post-COVID financial system, and why I selected to do journalism, someplace round 20-feet above the ocean mattress. I’m feigning calm. There’s a gentle drizzle. However the solar is eliminating the lack-lustre gray clouds that enveloped the sky earlier that morning, threatening to cancel my lesson.
In lower than 5 minutes, we’re displaced by the waves so we swim again to the spot, ready for Murthy. Syed says that the life jacket tends to make it just a little troublesome to swim. With out it, he says I can be free.
Quickly, Murthy arrives on a kayak, pulls my life jacket away, and throws a brilliant yellow buoy over my shoulder and peppers his directions with reassurances. “There isn’t a place else on this planet the place one can float as simply. It’s due to the salinity of the seawater,” he says.
I shuttle for a minute between the freestyle, breaststroke and the canine paddle. My chin is above water for many of it. The waves carry me forth. When a giant wave hits, I duck. For smaller ones, I attempt to rise above.
Earlier than I do know it, I’m making my manner throughout the excessive seas of Chennai, for the primary time. It’s true. There isn’t a place on this planet the place one can float as simply. As I step again on land , I’m each thrilled and relaxed. Murthy says that individuals who swim within the open waters chase this actual feeling.
Regardless of cities in Tamil Nadu having an expansive shoreline studded with stunning seashores, solely a handful discover water sports activities. Most of the lively open water swimmers come from Karnataka and Goa. Murthy says that individuals in Tamil Nadu have feared the water for too lengthy, forgetting its magnificence.
Though browsing and kayaking have grown in recognition, different water sports activities are but to see an uptick. Nonetheless, for the reason that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, there was a small but regular rise within the variety of swimmers seeking to transcend the 4 edges of the pool, leaping into quarries, lakes and the massive blue sea.
With satisfactory security measures, these lovers need to enhance their health whereas additionally getting a entrance row seat to the various wonders of Nature.
Driving the tide
“Open water swimming might be one of the best ways to know the ocean,” says Murthy. The fisherman-turned-surf teacher says that swimmers who’ve skilled in swimming swimming pools include no prior expertise within the sea.
With some fundamental classes together with an in depth understanding of the placement, the freshmen return with plentiful information together with the workings of tides, the swell, currents and wave breaks. One ought to be capable to neatly assess their swim situations together with the climate to make sure that they’re secure, he says. “It’s the first mark of an excellent swimmer,” he states.
Throughout our lesson, he speaks in regards to the rocks on both facet of Kovalam’s cove. He additionally explains the way to navigate the areas the place the waves break and what to do when swimmers discover themselves caught in a rip tide — a present created from the shoreline previous the road the place waves break. It causes sturdy tidal move, disallowing even skilled swimmers to flee. “You shouldn’t swim in the wrong way in direction of the shore when caught in a rip present. Simply transfer left or proper and try to be high-quality. Panic causes extra points than the ocean.”
Chennai’s fashionable seashores like Marina, Besant Nagar and Thiruvanmiyur, are usually not thought-about secure for swimming. Murthy says that for the reason that seashores do not need a curve, one touches chest-level water inside a matter of 10 to twenty metres. “This doesn’t assist for these seeking to swim,” he says.
He provides that Kovalam and Mahabalipuram are comparatively safer because the depth is often extra gradual. There are additionally a number of surfers, lifeguards and fishermen on boats who can shortly rescue swimmers in misery. In the mean time, one doesn’t require permission to enter the ocean for a swim. It nevertheless, helps to alert the lifeguard or be affiliated to a swim or surf college as instructors can be looking out.
Sharath Mukundan, a certified Nationwide Institute of Sports activities (NIS) coach, says that when you get previous the waves, the ocean often turns into an enormous, calm swimming pool. One solely wants to recollect to breathe and gather oneself. He provides that the ocean is ideal for these seeking to study extra about marine life. In Chennai, one can usually spot jellyfish, dolphins and whale sharks throughout the season. They’re innocent and delightful if we maintain a distance, he says.
Sharath runs a swim academy, Wild Swim, in ECR and takes a handful of scholars — 5 to seven in quantity — as soon as each month to Kovalam to attempt their hand at open water swimming. “We spend an excellent period of time assessing the waves and understanding the tides. It’s not harmful if you recognize the method,” he says.
PT Gajalakshmi, a scientific psychologist who was a part of certainly one of Sharath’s workshops says that after her expertise, she tends to suggest open water swimming to her purchasers. “Occasionally, I really feel the necessity to attempt new issues. Being within the water appears like you’re being held by it. It additionally appears like a large achievement. There aren’t any worries within the sea,” she says, including that she was assured proper from her first day out.
A near-drowning incident at an area seaside, propelled swimmer S Shobika to beat her worry of the water. Now, the 28-year-old says that she is freed from trepidation plans to swim within the sea frequently.
Nishanth Ravichandran, who carried out AquaFest 2023, amongst Chennai’s first open water swimming competitions on Could 7, says that 200 folks participated this yr with over 1/third from Tamil Nadu. Individuals from the State are concentrated in Thoothukudi, Madurai and Chennai. “Round 70 of the individuals who took half have been younger college students with particular wants from Chennai,” he says.
Individuals participating in several iterations of the triathlon and ironman challenges additionally like to swim within the sea. Whereas there may be solely a handful who frequently prepare within the ocean, Chennai’s seashores see many from Bengaluru, Mumbai, Goa and Mangalore visiting the East coast for his or her coaching throughout the season which is between June and September.
“Swimming within the ocean supplies phenomenal endurance. It’s exhilarating to finish a 5 kilometre swim into the ocean and again,” Nishanth says.
Apart from the a number of well being advantages, Sharath says that each time he swims amidst Nature, he comes again brimming with concepts. “The ocean really dumbs the ego down. You realise that something can occur so that you attempt, with each swim, to navigate the world higher,” he says.
I’m not but positive whether or not I can navigate my world higher. This solely means one factor. It’s time for my second lesson.
Take a dip
Need to swim within the ocean? Contact these faculties that are coaching freshmen and intermediate swimmers.
Murthy Surf College: 9003052231
Wild Swim: 7598092113