Local water sport centres have noticed a significant increase in both locals and tourists flocking to their shores, Sam Agars reports.
While junk trips are a traditional way to spend a long afternoon, very few Hongkongers take their pursuit of the ocean any further. Lantau, however, is bucking that trend, with a number of local water sport centres noting a significant increase in both locals and tourists flocking to their shores.
What Lantau lacks when compared to more popular Asian beach destinations – pristine sand and clean breaks to name just two – it certainly makes up for in enthusiasm and creativity. While surfing conditions are often suitable only for beginners, except for a rare day with larger, sometimes typhoon assisted swells, Lantau’s water sport providers have plenty of other options for the beachgoer keen for more than just a sedate wade.
Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) has burst onto the scene in the last couple of years, kayaking is as popular as ever and windsurfing and kiteboarding are both prominent on Lantau’s beaches.
The government is keen to promote Lantau as a centre for water sports, and in this area at least its plans seem to be in line with the locals’ wishes. In fact the world and his wife are already out there. It’s not unusual on a weekend to see hundreds of kiteboards, kayaks and surfboards darting through the waves at speed – a mesmerising sight.
Leading the water sport charge
One place that has witnessed the growth of water sports in general, and SUP in particular, is Treasure Island at Pui O, with programme leader Nick Tilley confident its popularity will continue to increase.
“SUP is still working its way up,” Nick says. “We have just put in another purchase order for three more stand-ups. We get people coming out here and doing yoga on the stand-ups and all sorts of stuff. Stand-up is the up-and-coming activity.”
One of the reasons SUP has found its niche on Lantau is the ease with which a person can access the required equipment, a long board and a paddle, and the fact that just about anyone, with a little bit of practice, can do it. It is perfect for Lantau’s generally calm waters and, while challenging, does not require extreme exertion.
Treasure Island went into partnership with Mavericks, a surf-themed beach bar, front and centre on Pui O Beach, just over a year ago and the two are a formidable team. Treasure Island offers the obvious services, SUP, kayaking and surfing (with hire costs starting at HK$80 an hour), as well as its well-known surf camps for kids, school camps and team-building adventures. There is even ‘glamping’ – camping with a touch of luxury, where all you need to do is rock up. Throw in the retro feel of Mavericks, the perfect place for a weekend drink and feed, and Treasure Island has all the bases covered.
“In the last 12 months there has definitely been an increase in people coming down,” Nick says. “I was here when Mavericks wasn’t and I have noticed the difference. There are so many more people heading to the beach and there’s a lot more happening.”
Located on picturesque Cheung Sha Beach, Palm Beach offers many of the same services as Treasure Island (SUP, kayaking and surfing), with windsurfing and skim-boarding thrown in. Hire starts at HK$70 per hour for a kayak and HK$90 for a surfboard, while Palm Beach also provides a host of reasonably priced lessons in a range of disciplines.
Palm Beach’s Tommy Leung, who has been in the water sport business on Lantau for over 12 years, is looking forward to a big summer season and echoes Nick’s thoughts, predicting more people will flock to Lantau this year than ever before. “There is more demand and more users,” Tommy says. “We are expecting a big summer. Business is always improving.”
Just up the way, at Lower Cheung Sha Beach, Long Coast Seasports works in the same vein as Palm Beach and Treasure Island. It specialises in kayaking, surfing, windsurfing and SUP, with the added extra of wakeboarding.
It’s worth noting that all three centres welcome children and, where possible, will cater for kids as young as three.
Taking it up a notch
Kiteboarding is a popular pursuit in Lantau’s waters, offering that extra thrill and wow factor for those looking to test themselves. Leading the way is the Kiteboarding Association of Hong Kong (KAHK), based out of Shui Hau Wan and Pui O beaches.
Run by Keith Tang, the KAHK caters for kiteboarders of all levels of experience and is the perfect place for beginners. An extensive three-day training course, open to children as young as eight, costs HK$6,000 a head, or HK$4,500 each for groups of two.
The calm waters off Shui Hau Wan are ideal for learners, while the choppier Pui O waves provide a little action for boarders with an expansive repertoire. According to Keith, ease of learning and the lure of an accessible thrill are two of the main reasons the sport is attracting more and more participants.
“In kiteboarding you have freedom to move around, as you are not behind a boat,” Keith says. “A lot of windsurfers change to kiteboarding as it is so much fun. It’s a really trendy and attractive sport. It looks very cool and you can jump high and do tricks very easily.”
For HK$1,200 you can hire all the necessary gear (a kite, harness and board) for four hours and, while being on the expensive side, enthusiasts note that it’s actually quite reasonable when compared to the costs associated with something like wakeboarding.
Locals, expats and tourists
While there is an overwhelming consensus amongst Lantau’s major water sport centres that the industry is growing on the island, and the government is right behind this expansion, the mix of nationalities frequenting each centre delivers quite a contrast.
Both the KAHK and Long Coast Seasports welcome mainly Hong Kong Chinese locals through their doors, with a smattering of tourists. At Palm Beach and Treasure Island it’s quite the opposite, with more than half of their custom coming from local expats and tourists.
“Over the weekend, I have 70% expats and tourists, 30% locals,” Tommy says. “Most of the foreigners come from England, Europe and the USA.”
Treasure Island also sees a lot of day trippers coming out from Hong Kong side, and on public holidays, an influx of mainland Chinese tourists. “Nowadays, a lot of mainland Chinese come down, the campsite and the beach are packed with tents,” Nick says.
Although Tommy is not seeing a lot of mainland Chinese at present, he expects that to change. “Water sports in Lantau are becoming more well-known to mainlanders,” he says, “and more and more are coming.”
Water quality throughout Hong Kong is the source of much debate, with many quick to label it as dirty and polluted.
The waters surrounding Lantau are often murky, but this does not necessarily mean they are not clean. Two-year Lantau resident Douglas Kidd, an education professional and avid kayaker, points out that Lantau’s waters are affected by the dirty water coming from the Pearl River Delta but, due to tidal currents, Pui O, Cheung Sha and Shui Hau Wan waters are in fact the cleanest.
According to the Hong Kong Government rating system, which rates water quality of beaches as good, fair, poor or very poor, all of Lantau’s beaches are either good or fair, putting them on par or ahead of others in Hong Kong.
Photos by Hunt Smith, and courtesy of Treasure Island, Palm Beach and Kiteboarding Association of Hong Kong.