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Summer splash: Water sports in Lantau

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Lantau’s water sport providers have plenty on offer for beachgoers keen for more than just a sedate wade. Sam Agars reports.

When you think Discovery Bay, it’s not often, if ever, you think water sports, with other parts of Lantau more renowned for their beaches. But there is more happening here than you think, with sailing, paddling and rowing all common and more and more kiteboarders seen in the bay.

The reality is, though, if you’re looking for a day at the beach with a kayak, stand-up paddle board (SUP) or surfboard, you will be well served to look to the likes of Pui O or Cheung Sha beaches.

Kiteboarding explosion

While sailing, rowing and paddling have all long been popular in DB, kiteboarding is just taking off. The sport is continually growing in Hong Kong and the waters of Discovery Bay are proving to be the perfect playground for expert-level kiteboarders.

“Because there is open space and less people do kiteboarding in the area, it is ideal,” Keith Tang from the Kiteboarding Association of Hong Kong (KAHK) says. “Also there is deep water, you won’t have any problems with rocks.”

Beginners, though, should beware of the DB waters – and winds. “You need east directional winds and the wind speeds must be high, around 13 knots constantly, and static, not dropping out,” Keith says. “If the wind changes a little bit to the south, the mountain will block the wind. If the winds suddenly drop a bit, you need to swim back to the beach. I highly recommend against it for beginners.”

It is for these reasons only experts grace the waters of DB and there is the notion that they would like it to stay that way, keen as they are to keep their space just for themselves.

That’s not to say there’s not plenty of fun to be had for beginners and intermediates on Lantau, with KAHK offering all sorts of options out of its two main bases, Shui Hau Wan and Pui O. There is quite a bit of gear involved and costs can add up, so Keith offers hire on everything required for those looking to try their hand before committing.

Pui O Beach and Shui Hau Wan are both perfect places to learn, with KAHK even providing a jet ski to ensure beginners can access the right areas to get just the winds they need. Shui Hau Wan in particular is a learner’s paradise, while the choppier waters off Pui O offer a little more action for those starting to find their feet.

“There are not many people using the beaches for swimming and there is no ferry,” Keith says. “And the water is not deep so people can always stand.”

To add to the momentum the sport is gaining, it has recently been added to the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, with an eye to it becoming an Olympic sport at Tokyo in 2020. After almost making the cut for the Rio de Janiero Olympics this year, it is clear the only way is up for this exhilarating pursuit.

Lantau delivers

Some of Hong Kong’s best beaches are on Lantau and in summer a mixture of locals, expats and tourists alike converge on Pui O and Cheung Sha beaches. There is nothing like a day at the beach during the warmer months and there’s plenty to do besides wallow in the shallows.

SUP has been one activity to increase in popularity on Lantau over the past couple of summers and the traditional kayaking is still a hit.

One of the reasons SUP has garnered such a following on Lantau is its simplicity and convenience, requiring only a long board and a paddle. As far as relaxing water sports go, it is at the top of the list and people are finding more and more uses for their board. “We get people coming out here and doing yoga on the stand-ups and all sorts of stuff,” Treasure Island programme leader Nick Tilley says.

Treasure Island at Pui O offers SUP, kayaking and more, including a host of surf and adventure camps that give kids a great grounding around water. The surf camps are for kids aged from five to 12, while the adventure camps are designed for children aged eight to 13.

“On the day, they do a mixture of all sorts of water skills and I guess the big thing is water confidence and creating new friendships,” Treasure Island programme manager Grant Whitehead says. “The adventure camp programme is designed around giving the kids a whole lot of outdoor pursuits.”

Wind surfing is also a popular Lantau pastime and was the forté of Cheung Sha Beach-based company Palm Beach, which is currently closed as it searches for a new site from which to run its operations. Another provider is Long Coast Seasports, located at Lower Cheung Sha Beach, which specialises in kayaking, surfing, windsurfing and SUP, as well as the option of wakeboarding.

While Lantau is a hub of water activities, one thing it does lack is consistent waves for the surfing community. That’s not to say that you can never catch a wave, but you do have to be patient and seize the moment when it comes.

“You’ve got to wait for a bit of a storm or a tropical depression inside the South China Sea,” Grant says. “Or a typhoon that comes across from the Philippines, as long as it gets into the South China Sea, will generally push waves on to Lantau. But other than that you can really struggle getting waves. Generally during the season you will get six to eight good surf sessions, where often the lifeguards pull the nets out and you can actually get some good waves.”

So there is some hope, but surfers don’t hold your breath.

Water quality off our beaches

The waters surrounding Lantau are often murky but, thanks to tidal currents, this does not necessarily mean they are dirty. 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.

For weekly updates on the water quality off beaches throughout Hong Kong, visit www.beachwq.gov.hk/en/map.aspx

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