Big boys never stop playing. Just ask Harish Kukreja. He introduced radio-controlled (RC) cars to his automobile business in the hope that his upmarket clients would pick them up for their children. They did — not for their children but for themselves! And before you knew it, racing RC cars was all the rage among well-heeled adults.
Harish understands completely. He’s been racing since he was 15 and is popularly known as Handbrake Harry (he says he was the first in the country to use the handbrake to spin the car in a tight corner). With as strong a motorsport background as his, it’s hard to give up.
“There comes a time when you need to retire because of family and age. But you can’t give it up completely. The next best option to driving a racing car is to race a scaled-down version, with the controls in your hand. It gives you the same thrill without the risks involved and it’s cheaper than the real thing,” says Harry who owns three RC cars.
Cheaper than the real thing is not necessarily cheap. You need deep pockets to indulge in a sport like this. Starting at Rs 10,000, the cars go up to Rs 80,000. And that’s only the beginning of the game. For instance, to upgrade a Rs 80,000-car would normally cost a lakh or a lakh and a half, says Harry.
To the uninitiated, RC cars may look like toys but enthusiasts insist they are the real thing albeit scaled down. The bigger ones — owned mostly by the 30-plus crowd — are normally a quarter or 1/5th in scale but have everything that real cars have: combustion engines, air filters and built-in shock absorbers. They run on fuel and can reach speeds of 60-100kmph. And what’s more, these cars have more accessories and upgrades than normal cars!
Though RC cars have been around for 15-20 years, it’s only in the last two years that they’ve become more professional. In fact, to take it to the next level, Harry and his friends have come together to open a 30-acre Adventure Park on Bannerghatta Road in the City that has a scaled-down F1 track for RC cars.
While Harry and co at last have a track to play out their passion — it would be school grounds and open spaces before — the City’s divers still have to traipse off to places with plenty of water for their dose of indulgence.
And that’s what makes diving particularly expensive for Bangaloreans, says Olli Kytokari, managing director of an IT services company, for whom diving is a great family activity. Olli, who’s Finnish, took to scuba diving while in the Madeira Islands in Portugal. He learnt diving there and then stayed on as an instructor. Since 1991, he’s clocked about 1,000 odd hours underwater and that’s something that would make other divers go Wow! Though he once used to scuba dive for a living, the activity is now restricted to only holidays and long weekends when he can get away to Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Andamans, Netrani islands or other diving paradises.
It’s a similar story for angling buffs who like a bit of luxury thrown in. The “common” angler, of course, will settle for Cauvery Fishing Camp but there’s a growing group that doesn’t mind paying for its pleasures.
“Angling is a huge $16 billion industry outside of India,” says Ranga Moola who, along with eight friends, started Monster Fishing about a year ago, a firm that offers anglers the opportunity to fish in unchartered territory in the Andamans.
“It’s not so much a hobby as a passion and a pastime that has become a business,” says Ranga, an angler for 15 years whose take is: Think positive, keep the faith and may the fish be with you!” The partners bought two yachts — imported from Turkey and the Gulf — and fitted them for deep-sea fishing. Though they’ve been marketing their packages largely to the overseas market, the Indian market is also opening up despite the prohibitive pricing.
Standard shore-based fishing packages ex-Port Blair and ex-Havelock cost US $ 1000 and US$ 1100 per day respectively. This includes packed lunch, fully guided fishing and use of fishing equipment, fishing licences and permits.
They also offer cruises for less intense anglers with diving and snorkelling opportunities.
Out of reach
Like angling and diving, it’s accessibility that makes a sport like golf so completely out of the reach of the masses. “To be able to golf, you need to be a member of a golf club which is an expensive proposition in terms of time and money,” says Ranga, who’s also a golfer and a member of Karnataka Golf Association (KGA) and Bangalore Golf Club (BGC).
BGC already has a waiting list that’s 18-20 years long and if you are looking for an immediate membership that comes up every now and then through a resolution by the governing body, it could cost at least Rs 10 lakh. And that’s just a start.
Once the accessibility bit is taken care of, you need training and coaching classes. And
then it’s the gear. “Even if you begin by buying second-hand, you will finally want to buy your own branded gear and the set could cost anything between Rs 40,000 and Rs 60,000,” says Ranga.
But when it comes to diving gear, it’s a slightly different story. “When I started out, I would do all sorts of odd jobs to be able to pay for the diving courses and for the gear,” says Olli.
Moreover, once you get to a diving destination, you normally pay about $50 for a single dive, he says. “That’s gear included, so you can dive as much as you like while slowly picking up gear that you can afford and that suits you. Many “holiday divers” never end up having own gear. And the gear is the most expensive single investment of the hobby.” The way you pick up your gear will determine how expensive the hobby is for you. On the one hand, says Olli, “There are the dive bums who are passionate about the sport and who collect equipment over a period of time, piece by piece, depending on what they need. Then there are those who have woken up to the sport later on. They go to the shop one fine day and buy the entire gear that could cost around Rs 3.5 lakh. The nouveau riche end up spending a lot of money because they buy top of the line but they do it not knowing if it fits their needs. It’s not the smartest way of doing things.”
Zamir Mirza, who was the No 1 in India in windsurfing in 1985 and clings passionately to the sport, agrees that there are ways to work around the costs. “A windsurfer costs around Rs 1 lakh and this is a one-time investment. On the other hand, a sailboat would cost Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh while sailing dinghies are cheaper.”
But if you buy a windsurfer that’s a year old, you get huge discounts, he says. He, along with a friend, has invested in a few windsurfers. And he himself owns a composite company that makes windsurfers on demand — at Rs 60,000 for the rig and board.
If you work smart, sport such as diving, sailing and windsurfing are not overly expensive to begin with but over the years, as you progress, you would want to possess a top-spec Laser (ahem! Let me show off with my newly-acquired knowledge — that’s a single handler for adults!) that could cost around $7,000 to $8,000, says Aditya Menon, who’s been sailing since he was eight years old and continues to do so — in Madras, Mumbai, Goa and our very own Manchinbele Dam. He’s now also into windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Aditya, who owns eight sailboats, says: “If you are serious and want to take it up professionally, you will want to have the best and that is expensive.” His children — Avanti (10) and Veer (12) — are dead serious. They are competing at the national trials for the Asian Championships and are just back from Mumbai after an intensive camp conducted by a coach from Hong Kong. The session would begin at 7.45 in the morning and continue till 7pm for 10 days. The coaching itself cost Rs 20,000 but you need a boat, and an Optimist (a single-handler for children) costs over Rs 1 lakh.
But what the heck! It’s serious work for the kids even if it’s all play for the big boys.