How India's Nethra Kumanan finds freedom through sailing

Kumanan could have been a painter, singer or dancer but it is sailing where she found her passion
By Samrat Chakraborty

Sailing is a sport that combines both mental and physical agilities and ace Indian sailor Nethra Kumanan is intrigued by its complexities.

She could have been a painter, singer or dancer as her father would enroll her in various classes at a young age. It was, however, the sea and the process of cutting through the tides on her boat where she found her passion. Kumanan, who last month became the first Indian woman to qualify in sailing for the Olympics, says she makes sense of the world through sailing.

"For me personally, sailing is a certain amount of freedom," Kumanan told the Olympic Channel.

"Sailing is sometimes just leisure, people do it for fun. We do it every day with a lot more intensity. I think, on the ocean it is all about the wind, water and trying to understand the world and connecting with the boat. Then we have to figure out the shortest distance that we have to make in the fastest way. So, you need to be a lot more involved than other sports," she added.

The 23-year-old Kumanan competes in the laser radial class, where athletes compete on a one-design class of small sailing dinghy boat, handled by one person.

"In our sport, it's very straightforward. It's about what we do with the boat and doesn't involve any technical setup," she said.

Nethra Kumanan sailing through the tides

Kumanan, however, likes to pick the brains of fellow sailors while training at Tamas Eszes' academy in Gran Canaria, Spain.

"When we are together (at the academy), we learn from each other, we push each other. When we have a training partner you push twice as hard. There are so many (sailors) here from different places. We pick up a lot and it's mostly an open play," she said.

And while Kumanan has grown under the tutelage of two-time Olympian Eszes, she also finds company in Tokyo-bound Greek sailor Vasileia Karachaliou, at the academy.

Karachaliou also sails in the laser radial class and has won four medals (one gold, two silver and a bronze) at the World Cup.

"At Tamas' academy, the best sailor right now, who is aiming for a medal at the (Tokyo) Olympics, is Vasileia Karachaliou from Greece. She has been in the academy for some time now. She is the priority of the team now with the Olympics coming up. I would be the next one to have qualified but there is a huge gap between us. A lot of time for me to get to where she is," Kumanan described.

The Chennai-based sailor has made up a lot of ground since missing out on the Rio 2016 qualification. She, however, is looking at the Tokyo Games mainly to enrich her experience.

"It will be an experience-building event. I can have fun. Sometimes for a sailor, these are the best events. No pressure to perform and the decision-making comes much easier. I will do my best and work on things which I can work on," Kumanan said,

She had also closely observed the past competitions at the Enoshima Yacht Harbor, the venue for the sailing event at Tokyo 2020, and believes the weather during the main event will be unpredictable but windy conditions can be expected.

"Weather is very unpredictable. In Enoshima (Yacht Harbor) they have had events, not last year, but prior to that. It was then like very windy, big waves. It will really depend on how lucky we are honestly. It could be windy, then we just need to wait and see," Kumanan said.

But before she is ready to meet the choppy waters in Enoshima in July, Kumanan knows there is a "lot of work to do."

"I've to work on every skill. I don't do anything perfectly. Sailing is about getting everything together. It will be about making the right decisions at the round mark which is a weakness of mine," she said.