Meenal Kansara, Nicole Pavri and Elias Patel together founded the Goa Open Water Swimming Club (GOWSC) seven years ago. They continue to be a passionate team that loves to explore the coast of Goa and enjoy the special beach culture of Goa.
Elias Patel said, “Well, we founded the GOWSC back in 2015. Back then it was a small bunch of around 8 to 10 of us who were passionate about the sea and met every Sunday morning to swim. Over the years that passion snowballed into a full-fledged club with over 2500 followers and regular swimmers from all across the country.”
He further spoke of switching from pool water to open water swimming, saying, “We shared a love for the ocean. Some of us are still a part of the club even to this day. I am a long-distance swimmer, who after years of swimming in the confined waters of the pool decided to take the plunge into open water swimming, and it changed my life completely!”
What keeps them going from the time they started till date, Elias said, “is the belief that we’re helping people connect with nature on a completely different level. We enrich their lives by getting them into an environment, which is what the human body is primarily made up of, water…”
“Over the years we've heard incredible stories from people who have swum with us. We have helped build the confidence and determination in people to enjoy themselves in an environment that is still largely unexplored.”
Talking about the progress they have made, Elias excitedly said, “It's been a fabulous journey, we’ve been able to meet so many interesting people from various walks of life."
He went on to reveal, "We've had to opportunity to travel to different parts of the country to share our journey with others and help them get acquainted with the sea. The upcoming season looks really exciting. We have some innovative ideas which like many of our projects will be a first for India!”
GOWSC is making a mark in Goa, especially in the area of open water swimming as they prioritise safety over everything else.
Elias said, “All our instructors undergo a rigorous training and certification process in sea rescue, first aid and CPR. In addition to that, we also spend a lot of time honing and training our own skills.”
“Our mantra is to make swimming a safe and enjoyable activity for everyone to enjoy. When we first started, people were reluctant to get into the sea. It's really heartening to now have people who come down from different cities and towns in India almost every weekend to join us on our swims,” he added.
Elias Patel, Founder of Goa Open Water Swimming Club
Speaking of the distinctiveness of GOWSC swimming classes from the ones held in a safe pool, Elias confidently said, “Unlike a swimming pool, sea swimming has no walls, lanes and ropes. But, what it does have are immense health benefits and fantastic buoyancy. Most pool swimmers are amazed at how quickly their body adapts to a salty environment and how much fun and excitement sea swimming offers.”
He continued, saying, “We’ve had many people equate sea swimming to running in the open. The situation is always dynamic, whereas pool swimming is more like running on a treadmill in a static controlled environment.”
Elias further stated the aim in mind while training students to swim, “We strongly believe that the ocean is to be respected and understood, not feared. Our South Asian mindset prevents us from entering the sea. From a young age, we are told that the sea is only to be looked at, not to be got into. Our first aim when someone approaches us, is to get them comfortable in this new environment.”
No matter a student's experience or skill level, they all learn the fundamentals of open water safety, drown-proofing and sighting. GOWSC has different curricula for different needs, so it's largely based on the student's requirements.
Some people come just to learn to relax in the sea, while others have competitive goals like taking part in triathlons and long-distance sea swims.
Elias believes that there is still a long way to go in the open-water swimming scene in Goa, saying, “While our club now has almost 3000 followers, more than 95% of this chunk are from other cities in India. Goans have access to some of the best beaches in India that are staffed with professional lifeguards, but open water swimming in Goa is still in its early stages.”
The ocean is a dynamic, ever-changing force of nature that poses a variety of difficulties for mankind. Speaking of their challenges,
Elias said, “Sometimes the ocean may be rougher than usual, sometimes we encounter a profusion of jellyfish (more of a nuisance than a threat) and sometimes we have to deal with less than ideal changing rooms and showers on our beaches. But whatever the challenge, there’s always a solution!”
The oldest student at GOWSC was in his 80s. “He came to us with the eagerness of a teenager, and we taught him swimming in a few hours,” Elias exclaimed with enthusiasm.
He further said, “We don't have an upper age limit for learning. However, we don't take very young children as they still need to develop the attention span that’s essential to learn sea swimming.”
GOWSC used to only train members on the weekends, but they now train every day of the week (from October to May). People are most active in the early morning and later in the evening since they generally prefer the cooler times of the day. They only go swimming in the daytime.
The GOWSC founders are aware of their responsibilities and, as a result, gently motivate their pupils and recognise their accomplishments while encouraging them to develop personally in a gentle, scientific manner.
When it comes to coaching, they practice the virtue of patience. They are also aware that every kid develops at a different rate, so instead of comparing their progress, they work with each student to help them become a better version of themselves.
The GOWSC is an equal opportunity club that welcomes individuals with all abilities and special needs to come and experience the joys of sea swimming with them.
Therefore, Elias also wholeheartedly extended a warm welcome by saying, “We would like to invite more people, especially from Goa, to come and enjoy the joys of open-water swimming with us. Our country is blessed with more than 7,000 km of coastline, and we in Goa have over 100 km of mostly clean beaches manned by professional lifeguards. Let’s start exploring the sea together!”