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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien


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Environment

Aug 23, 2018

A Ban on Rafting and Poor Governance in Uttarakhand

Rafting has vastly boosted the local economy. The government didn’t provide these jobs, but has benefited from them. If not thankful, the state could have been a little mindful.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

The recent and total rafting ban, four years after a ban on rafting camps, has stirred uncomfortable conversations in the adventure community. Perhaps it’s time that we all learnt a lesson.

Here’s a good place to start: Eco-tourism is sustainable, helping the environment and the local community. Mass tourism is damaging and inconsiderate, usually with a detrimental effect on the natural environment.

Adventure sports can be integrated either sustainably or unsustainably. It largely depends on how they are introduced and handled by the regional government and the local community.

“Rafting is a self-generating business; people have found employment by themselves.”

The natural environment in Uttarakhand has a lot to offer as a peaceful retreat and a source of income, in ways that are respectful to nature and sustainable for the community. However, the government’s disorganised approach, focused on short-term-benefits, has landed this state in much trouble. Government bodies have legislated regulations and policies without consideration for a longterm strategy.

“Rafting is a self-generating business; people have found employment by themselves. The government gets taxes from the local development, but receives a lot more money from power and road projects. Comparatively, it’s not worth their time. They look at the bigger fish,” tells Pradeep Raj Singh, Founder of Paddy Adventures.

Recent Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in courts serve as warning signals against the impact of mass tourism. This is clearly the time for thoughtful organisation and constructive dialogue.

Both of the recent PILs led to court orders without advance notice. Detailed surveys of existing ecological footprints were missing and local employment was not considered.  The recent ban was imposed without taking into account that over 40,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by 280 rafting companies.

“Currently, there is no right leadership in the state. But there’s a lot of scope. You just need the right kind of approaches and perspectives.”

“We were given a permit every year to do adventure sports for 18 years, with listed rules and regulations,” laments Vipin, Founder of Red Chilli Adventures. “Yet the high court puts an order and asks the government to show the papers for rafting regulations. We personally lost business of 5-6 lakhs and I paid for those losses from my personal savings. It didn’t just affect the ones who own rafting companies, but also impacted the vegetable sellers, the hotel businesses, and transportation companies. Not just the rafting companies, but everyone lost business. For us, rafting is not even about business; it’s more of survival. The government has no jobs for people.”

Photo: Aquaterra

“There were so many PILs filed in the previous years, but nothing was done about them. Something like this was not required. There could have been a time limit, like a month’s notice. If the government didn’t submit sufficient documents, then they could have imposed a ban,” adds Pradeep from Paddy Adventures.

Both Pradeep and Vipin are rafting instructors who have been in the industry for over twenty years. They feel that the potential of organised and responsible tourism in Uttarakhand is untapped largely due to poor leadership, especially when compared to states like Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

“Currently, there is no right leadership in the state. But there’s a lot of scope. You just need the right kind of approaches and perspectives.  The first step needs to be taken properly but the first step is not happening. This recent ban is a big opportunity for that first step to take place,” shares Pradeep.

“They could have had a conversation and investigated more to see what’s there and what’s not before imposing the ban. Fortunately, Uttarakhand tourism has taken advice from rafting companies, including my own, to make some amendments in the policies. One was regarding rafting companies using smaller vehicles to carry big rafts. The other was about the training of guides to include mandatory first aid course and swift water rescue training,” adds Vipin.

“Now, before the season starts, things are looking positive.”

Globally, national parks are generally preserved and adventure sports are permitted in nature. There are rules, procedures, training, and guidelines in place. People are given the freedom to benefit from nature in a responsible manner, and the state largely plays the role of an enabler and facilitator. In a nation that truly cares about nature and understands its crucial role in sustaining the human population, the desire to protect the forest would come naturally. It would also take charge of communication that helps educate the population about the importance and benefits of acting responsibly.

The rafting season is about to start in Uttarakhand. Many are hoping that the court will reconsider the report submitted by the tourism board, and lift the ban.  Members of the recent meeting, who are senior rafting guides in established companies known for good compliance, addressed existing loopholes in the recent report.

“Right now everyone is sitting idle and waiting for something to happen. The ban was imposed in the wrong way, but luckily it was at the end of the season. Now, before the season starts, things are looking positive,” shares Pradeep.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 05, 2018

Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th WSL World Title and a Wave of Attention that is Bigger than the Men’s

Three months after announcing equal pay for men and women, the World Surf League celebrates Stephanie Gilmore’s 7th World Title.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

On September 5th, 2018, the World Surf League announced plans for equal pay in men and women’s surf competitions in the 2019 season. This announcement was a huge step forward, not only for women’s surfing, but for women’s sport in general. The WSL had set the standard for equal pay in athletics.

Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) the WINNER of the 2018 Corona Open J-Bay at Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay, South Africa. Gilmore now wears the Jeep Leader Jersey after beating Lakey Peterson (USA) in the Final and takes over the Yellow Jersey from Peterson (USA). Photo: World Surf League.

This past year, the WSL had received negative feedback after a photo went viral of the Billabong Ballito Pro Junior Series male champion being paid twice as much as the female champion. Most social media users were upset with the pay disparity at the event, commenting on the photo as “blatant inequality” and “archaic discrimination”. However, some social media users argued in favor of the unequal payout. They argued that men’s athletics are viewed in the media more than women’s athletics, therefore bringing in more revenue, and justifying the pay disparity. A social media user commented on the Billabong Junior Series surf photo saying, “Surfing, like most sports is a predominantly male sport. More people watch the men’s surfing, more men surf than women.”

THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?

Many people would ask, do more people watch men’s surfing because it is actually more interesting? Or, do more people watch men’s surfing because that is what the media has always streamed, and thus, audiences are more accustomed to watching the men’s style as opposed to the women’s? Valeria Perasso at BBC News puts it well, “audiences will not get excited about women’s sport as it gets minimal exposure in the media, and the media would justify the lack of coverage by saying that female athletics do not generate enough audience engagement.” The same is true with other sports as well. Managing Director of the Women on Boards advocacy group, Fiona Hathorn, says, “Had our culture been used to seeing women rather than men playing rugby or football for generations, we would find the idea of men playing sports rather novel.”

NO LONGER A RELEVANT QUESTION?

If you head over to Google, use their News Search and type in “WSL Surf World Championship”, “2018 Surfing World Championship”, “Surf World Title WSL”, or anything along those lines, an article on Stephanie Gilmore and her 7th world title will be the first article to pop up. Every time. This means, not only are women now starting to get the pay they rightly deserve, but they are starting to get the media attention that goes along with it.

It was just last week, that Stephanie Gilmore won her 7th world championship title, proving to the world that women’s surfing deserves just as much attention, respect, and prize money as men’s surfing. She is now tied with Layne Beachley for the women’s world record of most surfing world titles.

With all this being said about the inequality between women’s and men’s athletics, the second half of 2018 has been a major year for progression of equality in women’s surfing. Women are now getting paid the same as men, and with Gilmore’s 7th world title win, she is also getting the same media attention as the men.

Hats off to Sophie Goldschmidt, the World Surf League’s new (and first female) CEO for pushing for equality!

Cover Photo: World Surf League

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