It’s hard to imagine any part of Goa without human habitation these days, but, surprisingly, a small stretch in Loliem, Canacona—located in the southern part of the state—remains untouched. There are no trails or roads leading up to the rocky beach, surrounded by cliffs on three sides. And yet, on most days, you will find a small group there, padded up in life jackets and helmets, gearing up for an adrenaline-pumping adventure. Over the next five hours, they will swim with the waves, explore intertidal zones, scramble up boulders, climb cliffs and jump from them into the foamy waters below.
Welcome to the world of coasteering, an adventure sport that originated in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in the 1980s and has made its way to India. Coasteering essentially involves exploring the line between the sea and the land, and all the small marine creatures you find there.
Though it may be possible to conduct the sport in any of the country’s rocky beaches—sandy ones are not conducive—you need a trained team to handhold you through the experience. And that is what makes Goa an emerging destination for coasteering, usually conducted between November-April under sunny skies, a gentle breeze and a slight swell in the sea. The outdoor adventures company that organises the five-hour sessions limits groups to six at a time. Each session costs nearly ₹4,000 per person. Even though most people haven’t heard of the sport, visitors are happy to sign up for the novelty of the experience.
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Every turn and scramble is full of surprises. In very Famous Five-esque style, you might end up wading into caves beyond the beach, discovering creatures hidden within its folds. In fact, Loliem has a unique 90m-long wave-cut sea cave, the only one of its kind in Goa. A 2017 article in The Times Of India states that geologically, the Canacona coast is unique, with the sea and forest merging in many places. “Unlike Salcete’s smooth coast, Canacona is largely rocky with beaches, caves, bays, cliffs, headlands, spits, bars and other coastal features,” it states. This makes coasteering a thrilling way to explore the unique landscape.
You might get out of water and clamber on to a boulder to discover sea urchins lying close by. A climb on to a small cliff could offer a vantage view of the glimmering waters beyond the rocky outcrop on one side and lush forests on the other. Unlike diving, surfing or cliff climbing, which offer a singular view of an ecosystem, coasteering offers a multidimensional glimpse of both the immediate marine and land environment.
A 2019 article in the National Geographic attempts to break down the experience of coasteering: “Take in the coastal views from clifftops before jumping into the sea and scrambling over rocks and cliff faces on the way back to dry land. Bodysurf with the swell and discover sea caves and rock formations. And don’t forget to look out for wildlife—from native seabirds to seals.”
Coasteering may be new to Indians but it has gained traction with adventure sports enthusiasts in New Zealand, Australia and the US over the last four-five years. In Goa, the sport is conducted by Adventure Breaks, a company started nine years ago by yachtsman Kim Sabir and mountain climber Ashwin Tombat. Converting their hobby into a profession, they now organise treks, kayaking trips, camping, sailing and rock climbing for people of all age groups—they also brought the first tower run (which involves running up tall man-made structures) to Goa in 2017.
The duo ventured into coasteering three years ago, analysing the sporting possibilities in Goa. With visitors and locals looking for newer ways to experience the state’s rich coastline, it seemed like the perfect offering They tested areas to see if coasteering could be adapted to these and found Loliem the most conducive, given the landscape and lack of human habitation.
“We conduct this in the wilderness in south Goa, which many locals have also not been to. Coasteering, by definition, means steering along the coast, in intertidal areas, from point A to point B,” says Sabir. “It’s an action-packed adventure for those seeking an exhilarating, free-spirited experience, packed into a mere five hours.” Within that short duration, you can do 20-odd cliff jumps, a fair bit of swimming and scrambling. “We equip you with all the safety gear—aqua shoes, wet suits, gloves and life jackets. It’s not necessary that you need to know how to do all of these proficiently but you should have a willingness to learn,” he adds.
There are certain prerequisites, though: You should be reasonably fit, else you will be knackered, and you should have a basic knowledge of swimming. Those who don’t know how to swim at all can still participate in the adventure by sticking to the shoreline in the intertidal area, where they can scramble and walk.
No one below the age of 10 is allowed to participate and the group size is limited, to ensure that the marine ecosystems are not disturbed. “Be mindful of the environment that you are stepping into. Don’t pick up anything, break anything or destroy anything. There is a lot of fauna and marine life in the area. We have come across leopard pug marks, wild boars, sting rays, rare birds, and more. So, we keep a ratio of 1:1—six team members for a group of six to keep a check on the safety of participants and ecosystems,” says Sabir.
“All adventure sports carry inherent risks and coasteering has its own share. However, our safety standards and equipment used are of very high standards, plus our team is very well trained,” he adds.
Princy Mehta, a Goa-based fitness coach and founder of threada, the clothes brand that celebrates the spirit of #StrongWildHappy, had been looking for an opportunity to cliff-dive for some time. So, when she came across details of the coasteering experience from Adventure Breaks, the 38-year-old signed up without delay. Four months ago, Mehta spent a day along the scenic sea route. The little cliffs and channels made the experience so enriching she can’t wait to do it again.