Abhimanyu Panwar has chosen the not so traditional sport of sailing as his passion. This young lad has already won four gold medals in nation-level competitions and a bronze medal in an international competition held in Malaysia. The final year BA Journalism student from Jain (Deemed-to-be University) spoke to us regarding the challenges of sailing in India.
How did you get into the world of sailing? Who introduced you to the sport?
My father is serving in the Indian Coast Guard and so when we shifted to Chennai from Cochin in 2005 we stayed next to the sailing club, but then the irony is that I never went to the sailing club. One day I had gone to a party and met the commodore of the sailing club and he asked me to come sailing. First, I thought it was swimming but when I went to the club, I saw these wonderful boats and fell in love with them. After that, I started going regularly to the club and slowly started going for various championships and started winning, which just made me stick to the sport ever since.
How old were you when you first sailed?
When I started sailing, I was about 12yrs old and I was actually quite late for my age group. Cause normally kids start sailing by the age of 9 yrs. Then luckily, I learned the sport very quickly.
Sailing is comparatively not that popular a sport in India, what was your reason behind pursuing this sport professionally?
To me, popularity is secondary. I actually never thought that I would be taking the sport professionally. Right from my childhood, I have always loved playing sports irrespective of what sport it was. Before I started sailing I had played cricket, football, squash, badminton, tennis, table tennis, etc., at the regional level and I was quite good at all of them. However, in sailing what I loved the most was that I got a sense of freedom, responsibility, independence, and a lot more basic stuff. Plus it made me stick out of the general crowd. I feel proud that I do something, which not everyone can and is a little more difficult comparatively. I agree popularity is important but I feel with the time that too comes, what is important is to be best at something which you love.
Which category and class do you represent in sailing?
I sail the laser class of boat which is an Olympic class of boat and I come under the under 21 category (only for this year).
How do you select your class? What is the thinking behind it?
I selected the laser class of boat because only one person can sail it (it is an individual class). I like making my own mistake and don’t like blaming others while sailing plus in team event, I always end up fighting with my partners (smiles). But I also looked at my physique and my boat handling skills which suited the laser class of boat. You need to be a bit tall and strong to sail this boat.
What are the most challenging aspects of sailing?
The most challenging aspect of sailing is that each second a sailor has to think about 3 to 4 elements on an average and if you are really good you can see about 5 to 6 elements. Elements like wind speed, wind oscillation, tide, current, sail trimming, sail setting, boat handling, body movements, opponents moves, etc. So all this makes the sport a lot more interesting and it is like playing chess at sea.
What is your daily routine?
When I am training for a championship I normally get up early and go to the gym and spend about 2 hours. Then I go sailing for about 4 hours and then in the evening I like playing basketball or football at the beach to step-up my stamina for about one to one and a half hours.
You were the only civilian in the top 10 in the men’s open. How difficult is it for a civilian to do that?
For a civilian, it becomes very difficult because the first and major thing is that we take care of all the expenses. The second thing is that time management becomes a major problem. Unlike the army or navy where they get paid for sailing every day, we have to manage time, money, and training to reach their level.
You then went on to participate in the Laser Under 21 World Championships in Medemblik, Netherlands. Tell us about the shift in quality in terms of the competition. How tough was it and did you have any specific strategies or goals?
World Championship sailing is at another level all together cause all the kids out there sail day and night and are fully supported by their country and their system. The competition level for me I would say was tough. Cause I had not been able to train with the sailors from abroad and so was lagging in competitive practice. The fleet size was also better, I mean all the 158 people out there were the best in their country and everyone had a goal to reach, unlike in India where we would have about 60 people in the fleet and out of which only the top 25 would be really good. Everyone out there is always participating in one championship or the other, whereas we have only two nationals. We need more championships and a lot more competition.
Your most cherished moment in sailing in your career until the date
The most cherished moments were when I first took the boat all alone by myself at the age of 12 and when I won my first national gold.
How do you evaluate the sailing scenario in India?
The sailing scenario is good. We have good talent, but it is wasted thanks to politics and power. We still have few guys who can make a mark for India, at least in Asia.
Is the sport economically viable in India?
The sport is economically viable in India, only if you are super rich and don’t want to make a living out of it. You are doing the sport for the love of it, not for the money to make out of it. The sport is very expensive and very difficult to be in it without any political support from the association or from the government.
How hard is it to get sponsors and equipment for sailing in India?
Sponsorships are hard to get especially if you sail an individual class of boat. Equipment is expensive and has to be imported. Only a few are available in India.
How can a youngster interested in sailing pursue the sport?
The sport has no age barrier and hence right from 7 to 70 years a person can sail. All you have to do is join any sailing camp held at any of the sailing clubs in India and in about 10 days, you’ll learn how to sail.
Which are the toughest and most enjoyable places to sail in India and abroad from your experiences?
Toughest and enjoyable places to sail in India would be Chennai in monsoon and abroad would be in Europe
Who is your favorite sailor?
My favorite sailor is Sir Ben Ainslie. He is a 4 time Olympic gold medallist and one time America's Cup winner.
How do you manage your studies and sailing?
It’s all thanks to my parents, friends, teachers, and university. My parents because they only force me to study when it is required and support me in all possible ways. My friends because they help me with notes and with the practical, My teachers are my backbone, they help me with the subject and with notes and practical and last but not the least the university for giving me attendance and letting me free to train and go for the competition.
How has Jain (Deemed-to-be University) helped you in achieving your ambitions?
Jain (Deemed-to-be University) had made a huge impact on my life, especially the sports department of Jain (Deemed-to-be University). They truly understand the need for sportspersons and give them all the freedom to fulfill all their sporting dreams. They have given me a scholarship for fees and they have also given me hostel facilities. The teachers are very understanding and help me with the subject especially when I land up at the last minute for help. They also give me time to study and submit my assignment. I am really thankful to the BA department, the English department, and the department of sports. They understand the needs of my sport.
What are the other sports that you follow?
I was the captain of the Jain (Deemed-to-be University) American football team last year, which played the first AIU American Football Championship held at Punjab and I will also be playing the professional American Football League. I love following basketball, Spanish Premier League, NFL, and Formula 1.
My future plan is to play the professional American Football League and then participate in a few international sailing championships plus a lot of laser sailing championships in India and prepare and try out for the 2018 Asian games.