Aside from enjoying a vibrant city life, Hong Kong is also blessed with having abundant stretches of open water as a playground.
Hong Kong’s total land area covers about 1,100 sq km, with a coastline of 456 km running around its main area, from one side of the New Territories to the other. The 263 islands situated within the city’s total sea area of about 1,640 sq km are surrounded by a further 722 km of coastline. This means there are many white-sand beaches and tranquil bays where you can enjoy everything from boating to water sports.
About a decade ago, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) began to grow in popularity as the ‘next big thing’ among the city’s water-based thrill seekers. This was around the time when athlete and water sports coach Edmund Lai took up SUP and fell in love with its versatility.
“You can go all-in and make it a stringent workout, or take it easy and have a chilled experience,” he says. “SUP uses a flat board, so you can stand up to enjoy the view from afar, lie down and relax, or even jump into the water to cool off.”
Lai says: “Hong Kong is great for water sports because there are many sheltered bays where you are protected from very strong currents and waves. There is always a stretch of ocean for you to jump in within an hour’s travel.”
He leads groups on a tour of Three Fathoms Cove, also known as Kei Ling Ha Hoi, in northeastern New Territories, about 20 times a year. “This area is famous for mangroves, and there is a lot of nature to explore,” he says.
Lai grew up in Sai Kung and had many opportunities to enjoy the sea as a child. “When I was 10, my uncle took me out for sunrise kayaking, from Sai Kung Town to Whisky Beach [on Kau Sai Chau],” he says. “When out at sea, I was overwhelmed by a sense of freedom. That’s when I became addicted to water sports.”
By the time he was in his late teens, he was a bona fide water sports enthusiast, taking part in everything from kayaking and surfing to dragon boat racing and wakeboarding. He has been a water sports coach for more than 10 years, with SUP one of his specialities. “I started coaching because I thought, ‘Since I love doing water sports so much, why not make it my job as well and do what I love all the time?’,” he says.
Lai’s SUP tours in Three Fathoms Cove start from a facility in the village of Kei Ling Ha San Wai, northeast of Ma On Shan Country Park. Known for its gentle breezes and calm waters, this area is a welcoming environment for all paddleboarders — even beginners who have completed only a basic SUP training course.
Although many people prefer to take the land route to explore the villages of Kei Ling Ha, Yung Shue O and Sham Chung located along the edge of the bay, being on a paddleboard allows visitors a whole new perspective.
“Depending on the water currents, you can see down as deep as three metres,” Lai says. “I see a lot of fish swimming around my board all the time, and there are often many surprises. Once, as I was leading a tour, a stingray swam up to the water’s surface between us. We were all astonished! “During low tides, you will see mangrove crabs along the shore, especially the fiddler crab with one big claw and one small one.”
Three Fathoms Cove is home to a sprawling area of fish farms and Lai often takes the tour group so they can carefully navigate their way around it.
“It’s a great experience for city dwellers as it’s not something that people see often,” he says. “On the paddleboard, you can also paddle alongside the mangroves and inspect them up close.”
Depending on your fitness level, the journey can reach Sham Chung, about 3 km from Kei Ling Ha, where there are many accessible spots for paddlers to get onshore.
“After a short walk along the trail, the view opens up as you reach the village,” Lai says. You will immediately recognise it because of the big green lawn and the little village house with the year it was built inscribed at the top. The village is really well-preserved and being here makes you feel like you have travelled back in time.”
If the timing is right, paddlers can even enjoy the view of a golden sunset on their way back to Kei Ling Ha San Wai. “Usually at sunset there are hardly any boats around,” Lai says. “It feels as if you have your own private ocean — as you watch the sky’s colour rapidly changing. That’s what I love about SUP. You get to slow down and enjoy your time out on the water and really connect with Mother Nature.”
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