Hi, I’m Kunal Oak, a three-time 7x7 National Record Holder, defending 7x7 National Champion and a speedcubing coach. In this blog, I will be sharing my cubing journey - from how I started, to how I got completely engrossed in it, as well as my experience as an organiser
How I Got Into Cubing?
My cubing journey started earlier than people think - I actually first learned to solve the Rubik's Cube in 2013. I used to commute to school by bus, and a senior at my bus stop knew how to solve it, so that is when I realised that it was a learnable skill and I could do it too. Needless to say, I found an old cube lying around the house and learned how to solve it within an hour from the PDF tutorial on the Rubik's website.
WCA Competition History
At the time, cubing was just a casual skill for me - an icebreaker for social situations, since it was really uncommon at the time for anyone to know how to solve the cube. However, 2015 is when I learned about the existence of WCA competitions, and that is when I started practising intensely. My first ever competition, FMCed 2015, was a small competition in Gurgaon with mostly side events. It was a good competition to start with and gave me a chance to acclimate to competition nerves.
My first ever memorable competition was NCRO 2015, in Delhi. As it so happens, day 2 of the competition also coincided with my birthday. It was a fairly large competition with mainstream events, so I wasn't expecting to get a podium in anything - I had just gone for the experience, but somehow managed to get an overall PB 2x2 single and average, which bagged me second place.
My interest started to wane a little, so I took a bit of a break, but I started to get serious about speedcubing again in 2016, which would be the year I met Aryan (who subsequently became my closest friend) and also the year when I was the most competitively active. At the time I still primarily focused on 3x3 and also started doing OH, and I got my first WCA gold ever this year (at RCMO 2016, in 3x3 OH).
2017 was a very similar story for me. I was fairly competitively active and practiced a fair bit, and this was when I got my first ever 3x3 win at SNU Open 2017 (I still only have 2 total till date), which was also very close to my birthday. The only difference this year was, I started solving big cubes seriously for the first time - something just drew me towards those events, and I started grinding and seeing incredible improvement. I placed 2nd in 6x6 and 7x7 at SNU Open (behind Shivam Bansal in both), and the rivalry between Shivam and I would remain for the rest of the year. He was marginally faster than me, until NCRO 2017, where I beat his official 6x6 and 7x7 mean (he would still go on to beat me in both finals, however). In Nationals, I got a PR 7.05 3x3 single, which would be the fastest solve of the competition.
Overcoming personal hurdles and coming back stronger than ever
2018 was a rough year for me though. A combination of personal issues, academic pressure and many more factors ultimately incapacitated me from competing for a full year. However, I did return, and at DCHW 2018 got my first ever sub 9 average, placing second in finals (my previous PR was 9.01 which was quite painful to say the least, so I was ecstatic to beat it).
SRCC 2018 was when I first started to be viewed as an NR contender - I clocked a 2:47 7x7 mean (0.8 off of the NR mean at the time), and later that year, at FFG 2018, I would again get a 2:47 mean, narrowly missing NR. I also got a 2:27 single, but had to do a resolve due to the timer running out of battery. This sequence of events was quite disheartening, but it also just made me work harder. Alongside resuming competing this year, I was also part of the core organising team for Indian Nationals 2019, to be held at Shiv Nadar University, so that was an event I was extremely excited about since the entire team worked extremely hard towards making this the best competition in the country ever.
So naturally, then came Nats 2019. And as my luck would have it, it once again coincided with my birthday. I don't quite know what it is about me doing well on my birthday, but I broke both 7x7 NRs by large margins (dropping the single from 2:36 to 2:28 and the mean from 2:45 to 2:35), and I would go on to win finals as well, once again breaking my own NR mean with a 2:34. It really was the perfect culmination of my cubing journey - not just because I was extremely pleased with my performance, but also because of what an incredible competition Nats 2019 was - it is still one of my most cherished memories.
What I Do Now?
As time would pass, I would continue to compete and improve my results (I even broke my leg at a competition) and would go on to compete at the Redbull Rubik's Cube National Qualifier, held in Chennai. However, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic hit shortly after. The first few months were quite disheartening - however, online competitions are a slight solace and help me stay in form. I continue to practice both 3x3 and big cubes, and my ultimate goal is still to be the 5x5-7x7 Asian champion, so I shall continue to work hard towards it.
Alongside practicing these events, I also offer speedcubing coaching through CubeXprt, which has helped a lot of speedcubers push through their plateaus and improve at phenomenal rates. Alongside getting to help these clients, I have also learned a lot from watching their solves, and it has been quite an interesting and fulfilling experience.
Cool journey Kunal! Love your turning style.