Oman’s stunning coastline offers a chance to wade into those waves for swimming, snorkeling, and windsurfing. But it all means being ocean-aware and safe, as Swati Basu Das reports.
A project to get Oman swimming safely has had to be scrapped after a string of problems with red tape.
No, we aren’t trying to reach out to wannabe Michael Phelpses or apparently aquaphobic celebrities like Will Smith and Sandra Bullock.
We shall leave it to their counsellors to correct their techniques and ease out their panic.
Instead, let’s talk about the rest of us. Yes, some of us may be ace swimmers pumping up for an aquathlon and already feeling like fish in the water while others may fear to tread ever-closer to the water.
Whomever we are, a weekend by the beach always has a sunny side up, irrespective of the sea being either captivating or too daunting for a swim.
Be it a barefoot walk on the soft sand, throwing a beach party or playing volleyball; the pristine, turquoise-blue sea soaks up the summer heat making you run to it on a weary weekend afternoon to recharge your batteries.
The 3,165 kilometre Oman coastline is a real summer escapade. It welcomes a thousand visitors each day who can all enjoy a refreshing dip and a plethora of activities such as jet skiing, stand up paddling (SUP), windsurfing, snorkelling, diving and, of course, swimming.
But little or no knowledge is a dangerous thing. Ignorance of the ocean tides and incorrect swim techniques in open water has led to several drowning causalities in the recent past.
Shocking figures by PACDA reveals that the number of deaths by drowning has dramatically increased since 2016, both while in the sea and the wadis.
But that won’t stop people from admiring the underwater wonders. Oman’s coasts are best- known for snorkelling and diving. In a country with abundant marine life, the knowledge of swimming with all the correct techniques for a safe swim is a must for enjoying the corals of this vibrant oceanic plate.
And Alawi Swimming Academy does exactly that for anyone who wants to have a safe but exciting weekend ahead.
It is a voluntary group that was founded by Dr. Rajendra Shanghavi in 1984, and aims to promote awareness among beach-goers and would-be swimmers to bring down the number of drowning causalities.
A doctor, Dr Shangavi has taught more than a thousand beginners and novice swimmers. The coaches in his team impart their expertise to every learner for free at Kalbooh Beach, near Muttrah Souq.
“The water doesn’t know how old you are”, and the saying fits this group of ace swimmers. Here, a five-year-old child to a middle-aged learner can all be trained to perfection.
Dr Shangavi points out: “Swimming in the sea is entirely different to doing so in a swimming pool. It is endless, vast and sometimes unpredictable. The crystal-clear water and abundant coral life are best experienced only when you know to swim. A good knowledge of swimming can help anyone experience the beauty.”
A high level of salt makes the seawater denser and our bodies more buoyant. That makes swimming easy in the sea than in fresh water, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s easier to float, but swimming into the deep and coping with the ocean currents is something where buoyancy doesn’t matter.
Every Friday and Saturday morning, the calm and pristine pebbled Kalbooh Beach welcomes more than 50 swimmers.
Each is busy learning the basics of swimming or fine-tuning their arm and breathing techniques.
“There are 11 coaches and each offers personal attention to all,” says Dr. Shanghavi.
“Familiarisation with the water is important to kill the fear of water before they swim. It is one step at a time. We never hurry any of our students or force them suddenly into the deep.”
Dr Shanghavi’s experience over the years has helped many to learn the basics of swimming.
Sanjith Keloth, swimming coach at Alawi Swimming Academy, says: “Learning from him has not only made me hone my skill in water but has motivated me for triathlons and diving in for a relaxing snorkel.”
According to Dr. Shanghavi and his staff, what matters in the sea is a thorough understanding of the water and following a few simple rules.
Having a pair of good quality goggles, a good wet suit and an excellent warm up before the swim are as crucial as considering a few safety rules:
Never swim/snorkel alone: That is perhaps the most dangerous thing to do if you are not an ace swimmer. Having a swim buddy will not only help but can double your enjoyment.
Beware of rip tides: When in the ocean it is essential to respect the rules of nature. Don’t run the risk of drowning while enjoying it. Rip currents are beyond your direct control and deaths are quite common in one. They are the strong jet of waters that flow quickly away from the shore and can carry you off 25 metres in just a second. Avoid beaches with turbulent waters and when the weather is unfavourable.
Don’t get dehydrated in the water: Yes, you hear that correctly. Dehydration in ocean water is quite common even though the water around hugs your body. Pay attention to symptoms like thirst, muscle cramps and dry mouth. Experts suggest drinking plenty of water and eating a few dates and a banana before the swim will help to keep your body fluid balanced.
Learn to tread and back float: Treading or hovering in the water is to stay at one position in case you fear drowning and
need help. It also helps to relax you if you are tired. Learning to float on your back is considered relaxing too.