Shillong, May 26: More than 100 participants are expected for the biggest edition of the Megha Kayak Festival, which is scheduled to be held from 13th to 16th October in Ri-Bhoi.

The “international white-water kayaking competition” will be held on the Umtrew River near Umtham village.

Ri Bhoi Watersports and Tourism Cooperative Society (which was formed only this year) held a press conference here today to announce the dates and other details. Present were Manik Taneja of Goodwave Adventures, Bangalore, the technical organisers, Ian and Sheela Vincent of Shillong Whitewater Village, the location of the event, and Naomi Bakor Kharbyngar, a kayaker.

The Megha Kayak Fest has been taking place since 2016 but this year (the first time it will be held since the Covid-19 pandemic began) the organisers want to make it bigger than ever, in fact the plan is to make it the largest such event in India. National and international kayakers will be competing this year and the total prize purse will be Rs 15 lakh.

It will feature Olympic disciplines such as kayak slalom, extreme boater cross and time trial races. There will also be events for intermediate and novice kayakers.

Taneja’s company has organised the Malabar River Kayaking Festival in Kerala and in 2018, three Meghalaya lads did well there. However, the sport is still a niche one, with only around 20 or so competitive kayakers in the state, Sheila Vincent informed. That is one of the reasons why the Megha Kayak organisers held the press conference months in advance of the event – they want to encourage more people in the state to participate and Shillong Whitewater Village offers courses for beginners.

Ian Vincent is a former Australian kayaker and says that Meghalaya’s unique geology makes its rivers perfect for kayaking.

“The rivers here are pretty much world-class,” he said. Many international kayakers have come here in the last 10 years. The rivers are unique because of the geology of Meghalaya, which means that rivers are narrow with lots of waterfalls. That attracts extreme kayakers – it’s the challenge of the technical aspects.”

Unfortunately, there have been accidents and casualties in the past. Two people who died while kayaking some time ago were, however, charting unexplored rivers and that was very high risk. The Megha Kayak is on a river that has been dammed upstream (thereby regulating the flow) and will have safety teams present.

“It’s an adventure sport and certain risks are there,” Taneja said. “But kayakers train very hard to make themselves capable and strong to handle these situations. There will always be unfortunate incidents that could happen as nature might turn on you but the probability of such incidents are very low.”

Taneja also talked up the job opportunities for those good at kayaking – with adventure sports growing in India and globally, local kayakers could find work as river guides or kayaking instructors outside the state and overseas, he said.

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(TSR representational photo)

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