It’s surprising the range of water sports one can enjoy at Hong Kong’s many islands. Like kiteboarding. Pick a day and a beach with good winds, swim out to sea, and slip your feet into the straps of your kiteboard. To stand, dive your kite while pushing your weight into your lower body, then dive your kite again to get moving. The basic skills of the sport can take a few days to master, but the euphoria of launching yourself into the air on the crest of a wave has been attracting locals and visitors to Hong Kong’s beaches to tackle the sport for decades.
“It really gives you a thrill,” says Ken Choi, founder of X Game, a board sport retailer that also offers lessons. He adds: “You’re not using an engine, just technique and the power of nature. It not only requires a lot of physical energy, but using your brain to figure out how to use the wind.” Choi, who opened his first store in 1985, mostly sells and gives advice on water sports gear, and has regulars who have been coming to him for more than 30 years.
Choi also offers windsurfing courses, which gained prominence in Hong Kong after 1996, when Lee Lai-shan, a Cheung Chau native, took home Hong Kong’s first — and only — Olympic gold medal, for women’s boardsailing. But windsurfing and other water sports have been a part of island life for much longer. Lee’s uncle and aunt, Lai Gun and his wife Irene, were water sports pioneers in Hong Kong, founding the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre in 1975.
“The centre is one of the first spots that brought in windsurfers in the 1970s,” explains the manager, Stephanie Chow, who goes on to reveal that the it was previously a humble beer and noodle shop. “It’s definitely a part of Cheung Chau lifestyle.”
The best time to pick up a board and kite is in the autumn when the monsoon season starts, but Cheung Chau beaches are suitable year-round, with the winds shifting from season to season. Other sports are less seasonal and wind-dependent, like “kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding, which started to become popular five years ago,” says Chow.
Of course, water sports can be enjoyed at many other island beaches besides Cheung Chau. Adrienne Ng, another longtime business owner, launched in 1996, choosing Pui O on Lantau Island as a base. “My love is encouraging people to appreciate the outdoors and the sea through activities,” she says.
In addition to rentals, Treasure Island Hong Kong offers lessons for surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding, allowing even the most novice visitor to get out on the water. “Pui O is a gem that I fell in love with,” Ng enthuses. “Hong Kong is such a tight, condensed city, but nearby there’s this desolate beach with water buffaloes. There’s no place in the world that has a beach so close to such a metropolitan city.” On the weekends, ferries are packed with people looking to get out of the city and spend some time learning a new activity.
Hong Kong’s collection of islands in a warm, sub-tropical climate makes it an ideal place to pursue an interest in aquatic sports, or even try one for the first time — it's a great way to develop a different perspective on the city. “Don’t take it for granted that Hong Kong is just about shopping,” says Ng. “There are tons of little treasures to be found just 40 minutes away [from Central].”
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