In 1996, Lee Lai-shan made history by becoming the first person to win an Olympic gold medal (or indeed a medal of any kind) for Hong Kong. The event: windsurfing. The celebrating continued for months, and windsurfing prowess became part of the local identity, drawing a new wave of interest in a city mostly surrounded by sea.
Ho Chi-ho and Vicky Chan, now a married couple, benefitted from increased government funding for the sport after Lee’s high-profile victory, and followed in her footsteps, competing in the Olympic Games and Asian Games from 1998 to 2010. Although now retired from competing, they head up the Hiwindlover Water Sport Centre on Stanley Main Beach, one of Hong Kong’s most popular places for learning windsurfing and other watersports. ‘Here, people from all walks of life come to windsurf as a way to escape the daily grind,’ says Chan. ‘As for me, I am no longer single-mindedly focused on winning, and now think about how to promote the sport.’
Hong Kong’s geography makes its bays great for windsurfing, and Stanley has the facilities for it. But anyone who’s watched from the beach will realise that it’s not the easiest sport to pick up and even more challenging to compete in. ‘Windsurfing is a game of speed and tactics,’ says Himson Wong, Ho’s cousin and former teammate. ‘You must have a thorough understanding of your surroundings, the ocean, water currents and wind direction, while at the same time knowing your opponents’ skills, the weather and the terrain. It’s challenging and but also thrilling.’
Much of the support for windsurfing comes from the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong’s Sports Legacy Scheme, which helps students and retired athletes pursue their sports. Many of the students benefitting from the scheme come from Hong Kong Sea School in Stanley – a vocational institution that trains in seamanship – and some have led successful windsurfing careers. ‘Thanks to improved equipment and apps for checking conditions, it’s easier to get into windsurfing now,’ says Ho. ‘Even six-year-olds can do it, which really helps the sport grow.’
Catch windsurfing at the Asian Games, held in Indonesia from 18 August to 2 September