Published: 09th October 2021
Wilfred Manuel was among the first to bring water sports to Kerala. We deep dive into today's diving scene
Wilfred C Manuel has three decades of experience in diving. He talks to us about Inter Dive and how diving can contribute to the tourism industry
For a state that's known for its serene blue waters and scenic backwaters, it is surprising to hear from diving instructor Wilfred C Manuel that there wasn't much of a water sports environment among Malayalis till a few years ago. The 57-year old North Moolamkuzhi native has a diving institute there by the name Inter Dive Adventure Sports Center which is also the state's first private diving team. Wilfred and his team were active participants in the rescue missions during the 2018 floods in Kerala. Now, he also trains special teams, including the divers of the Kerala Police. He talked to us about the prospect of a water culture in Kerala and the precautions one must take before tackling water expeditions. Excerpts from an interesting conversation:
How did it all begin for Inter Dive and you?
We began as a registered company back in 2006. But I have a much longer association with diving since going to the UAE as a diver way back in 1992. I always wanted to teach diving to the Keralite population. Back in the early days, I noticed that only those in the navy were proficient in aquatic skills, but most of them were from north India. I would always wonder why Malayalis weren't more proactive in the water, especially since we belong to a coastal environment. So, I started teaching swimming enthusiasts diving in an informal capacity in 2004.
Give the uninitiated a quick introduction to diving.
There are two forms of diving. First is commercial diving where people learn diving to become professional divers. Second is diving as a recreation or a sport where people learn diving so that they can safely explore below the water surface while visiting tourist destinations like Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar islands, Maldives and so on. We teach both forms as per the guidelines provided by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). It takes about a month to learn commercial diving and just one week to learn recreational diving.
Being an ace diver for three decades, we'd love to hear your observations.
I feel that people who have good will power can train and become good professionals in this area. I have observed that people in Kerala do not have a particular affinity towards the sea or water, in general, despite being a predominantly coastal community. There are many fishermen who do not know how to swim. What I have observed particularly is that people love water destinations. But they dive into it without getting locally oriented to the natural conditions there. This can easily result in accidents. People should talk to the local divers to understand the surroundings better and only then dive in. Another problem that I have noticed is that people go diving under the influence of alcohol. This is a very precarious situation as the effect of alcohol can make you feel tired very soon and can cloud your judgement, making drowning a real possibility.
So you feel that diving has great potential in the tourism industry?
There is a huge potential for that, most certainly. We have some great water spots in Kerala, like Kovalam, Vizhinjam and Varkala, where there could be a whole host of aquatic activities conducted for tourists. The state government should support this cause wholeheartedly. In the end, they only stand to earn their buck from this and, in the process, create employment for people.
What is your job like as a professional diver?
My team and I are often called to do civil engineering projects but there are times when we are called to recover bodies of the dead or if there is an attempt to rescue someone. I don't charge anything when it comes to rescue or recovery. I have seen a lot of dead bodies and a lot of sorrow among families. I find that most of these would be avoidable if people could just understand water better. That is why I try to maximise the message that one must be very careful and respectful of water while navigating it.