They’re the guys who take you on breath-stopping powerboat rides, help you touch the skies on paragliding missions, steady you when your water scooter’s about to turn turtle after getting a tight slap from a precocious little wave in the sea… They are the ones working round-the-clock to ensure your holiday in Goa or any beach resort in India is entertaining and… most importantly… safe.
The National Institute of Watersports (NIWS), under the aegis of the Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, Ministry of Tourism, is the only training centre in the country mandated for carrying out training and certification in the domain of leisure watersporting. “We bench-mark the safety standards for the sector and in our training and advisory/research pursuits,” says Sutheeshna Babu S, nodal officer.
Giving a thumbs-up to the excellent faculty and training facilities at NIWS, Sidharthan Karunakaran, who did an orientation programme in water sports here, says he wishes there were more such institutes in the country. Also a graduate from Scotland’s Edinburgh Napier University in MSc in tourism and hospitality management, he says “I have observed how serious people are about safety in water sports In Scotland. In India, apart from NIWS, we have no one to teach people more about such sports and related rules and regulations - which should be essential learning in schools given our country’s 7,517 km coastline,” he adds.
Doing a postgraduate diploma in tourism and cargo management at Indian Institute of Toursm and Travel Management (IITTM), Nellore, Karunakaran says he opted for Goa to complete a project for his fourth semester and found it easy to enrol for the NIWS programme as it was part of the IITTM family.
From scuba gears to power boats, NISW has all the necessary training equipment. “We have just a handful of highly competent trainers in India and most of them are with NISW,” says Babu. Two types of courses are on offer — professional and skill-based. For all water-based operational courses, proficiency in swimming is compulsory. For water-craft operations courses, the candidate should be able to complete 100 mts in placid water. For lifeguarding courses, candidates have to finish 100 mts in two minutes, and for beach lifeguarding, standards are even more stringent. There is no prescribed education level but ability to read and write at least in the mother-tongue is desirable.
Trainees can do skill courses in windsurfing, dinghy sailing, waterskiing and kayaking to professional courses in OBM maintenance, remote-controlled powerboat handling, lifesaving techniques for watersports operators, CPR demonstration programmes for resorts and industries, and watersports centre management. (For course fee, duration, check out www.niws.nic.in). The best part about NIWS is that any kind of private coaching will be expensive and the fee structure here is nominal, primarily to cover the cost of training.
Training is fun, says Karunakaran, who from childhood has been swimming in the wells and ponds in his Village Kalavai in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district. “We went for practicals to Dona Paula where the basic essentials of staying calm during a crisis situation, using life jackets, physical drills in water, etc were taught. Then we were trained to use surf boards and taught how to balance on it which was easier said than done as we kept falling off… The waterskiing experience was fantastic, especially when you moved against the current and bounced over the ripples,” he says.
Trainees at the institute include “a diverse mix, ranging from school drop-outs to posgraduates including the doctors and engineers,” says Babu.
NIWS now has some core buildings, “but a full-fledged state-of-the-art campus is being constructed with provision for hostel etc,” says Babu. Karunakaran and his batchmates were assisted by NIWS officials to find dorms close by in Dona Paula. “We were taken on local trips to the churches and the beaches to familiarise ourselves with the city. It is such a vibrant place - the atmosphere, the culture is so different from the other cities, I was really happy to be there,” says Karunakaran. The food was a revelation too - with so much of vinegar in the chicken cafreal and the vindaloo, thanks to the Portuguese influence, he says. The cuisine was easy to get used to as he has a hotel management backround, but his IITTM batchmates had issues, he adds.
The most popular courses are life saving techniques and powerboat handling. “These are essential for anyone wanting to enter the industry. Life saving techniques are taught to watersport operators, pool and beach lifeguards and to those working in water-theme park. Trained license holders are mandatory for operation in beaches and resorts,” says Babu.
Trainees have so far been placed in a variety of establishments ranging from boat-clubs, government agencies, to hotels and water-theme parks, says Babu.
As the certification is internationally accepted, lots of students have been employed in the Middle East, he adds.
Now 26 and working with a freight forwarding company as customer service management trainee in Chennai, Karunakaran counts as “the best” the paragliding training at Varca beach… The wind and the sun... it was unforgettable. “It was here that NIWS taught me to fly,” he adds.
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