Acing tough rapids and streaming through raging rivers, meet Naina Adhikari – a young and passionate kayaker. She won her first Best Debut Award at Ganga Kayak Festival in 2014, which pumped her to get into the sport seriously. Since then, there’s been no looking back. She won the Overall Female Championship at Ganga Kayak Festival this year. We caught up with her to take you through her incredible journey.
At 13 years of age, Naina a resident of Nainital, Uttarakhand visited Rishikesh back in 2013. She was initiated into the sport by her uncle and as they say, the rest is history.
How did you start kayaking?
I started kayaking at the age of 13 because of my uncle Mr. Bhupendra Singh Adhikari (Eddy). He is one of India’s legendary white-water kayakers who currently lives in Switzerland. My uncle introduced me to this sport and put in a lot of effort to make me a good paddler.
[Eddy was in the organizing committee of Ganga Kayak Festival 2014 and asked Naina to participate in it. She trained under Mr. Ayodhya Prasad, who was a part of Eddy’s company DE- N-ASCENT Expeditions.]
Who/What has motivated you towards this sport?
The only thing that motivated me towards this sport was my uncle Eddy and my Aunt Simone’s support. Self – motivation also pushed me through a lot. I was highly hydrophobic and I never liked going under water and doing kayaking for that matter. But then I realized that kayaking is something for which I will have to come out of my comfort zone. I then decided to challenge my limits and go extreme in my little way.
Tell us about your recent achievements at Ganga Kayak Festival 2019.
The Ganga Kayak Festival is [a] platform from where it all started in [my] kayaking [career]. I was excited to participate in this year’s Ganga Kayak Festival. Winning the overall title of the Female Champion was a matter of pride for me but what made it more special was [the fact] that I did not swim even once in that big class 4 rapid and was rolling whenever the big crashing waves flipped me upside down.
Are there any other kayaking events that you will be participating in?
Yes. there is another whitewater kayaking competition [at] Uttarkashi in River Tons and I am going to participate in it.
It’s going to be my first time in River Tons and I am really looking forward to it, as I am the only girl kayaker competing against the boys. I am also aiming for the Malabar and the Ladakh River Festival.
Also whenever there will be another India Camp, if I get selected again then I will join [in] for sure.
Is there a specific diet chart you follow before the race?
– No, there is no specific diet chart as such which I follow before the race. I eat a light meal like an apple or a glass of milk with some supplement, whenever I head to the river. However, I ensure to load my bag with some fruits and energy bars when I’m traveling. I drink lots of water before entering the river to avoid dehydration. Good amount of food and training will help you maintain uniformity in your weight which will eventually help you perform better.
Who or what has been your support system through your career?
Family support is really important and with no doubt, my family has been my backbone through my entire journey. My father and my uncle Eddy have always stood by my side. My grandmother and my mother are a little apprehensive about my kayaking since they think that it is a really risky sport. My father has always accompanied me to most of my competitions, be it Malabar or Ganga Kayak Festival.
It’s very important for an athlete to have some strong financial support and without my dads support it would have been impossible for me. My uncle who although lives in Switzerland but his support throughout my kayaking journey is commendable. Not to forget my Kayaking Gurus who are like my family [including] Ayodhya Prasad, Shalab Gahlaut, Harender Rawat and Eddy himself, whatever I am today is because of them. In fact, the whole kayaking community is like my family. They have always supported me, be it on [the]river or off [the] river. I am lucky to have such a huge family.
Have you ever faced stereotypes? If yes, how do you manage them?
Yes, I have faced stereotype[s] a lot. There have been times when things become very awkward for me especially when I am on my periods. We quite often go kayaking and I am usually the only girl. But the boys are super supportive and understanding.
Academics/Training – do you have to juggle between the two?
I was in class 8 when I started kayaking and that too during my winter vacations, but unfortunately it became very difficult for me to manage my school and kayaking. Nainital, my hometown is very far from usually where I use[d] to train (Rishikesh and Shivanandi) so it was difficult to manage studies and kayaking. Hence, I decided to take [a]break from kayaking and focus on my school which was not a smart decision for my kayaking. But I use[d] to paddle during my holidays and come for the kayaking festivals sometimes.
After finishing my class 12 I have now taken a gap year only for kayaking and now I am not going to leave it no matter what. Although I will try to keep a good balance between my college and kayaking.
We are super stoked to know that you have been selected in the Indian Slalom team. How are your preparations going on?
Yes, I made it in the Indian Slalom Team and got selected for the Oceania Slalom Championship in Australia but unfortunately due to some reasons the team could not go. But we were training really hard in the India Camp for the championship.
What is your advice to the budding women kayakers in India?
Kayaking is a male-dominated sport across the world. Especially in India, parents are reluctant to send their girl-child into such a risky sport, where you have all boys surrounding you. Female kayakers in India do not have much exposure and knowledge about the sport. They even struggle to get a proper coach and right gear as it’s expensive and they lack sponsors for the same. But Indian women never fear obstacles and stand strong. They are brave and courageous which is most needed when you are in the river. So I believe, with good training and adequate fund, women kayakers will outperform the male kayakers.
[I would also] like to [add] that Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, sacrifice, faith in your self and most importantly love for what you are doing. It’s very important to respect each other! Cheers!