Whether he’s launching his boat from the deserts of Dubai, sailing across the glittering seas of Thailand, or bracing himself against the gusty Scottish winds, Douglas Leung always has his game face on.
The 12-year-old Independent Schools Foundation (ISF) Academy student has been making waves (ha!) on the Hong Kong sailing scene, and he’s only five years into the sport.
Douglas got hooked on sailing after he and his brother took classes one summer – and they’ve continued to motivate each other on ever since. He took up leisure sailing courses, which became performance racing, before he finally began participating in international races a little over a year ago.
Douglas’ rapid development was clear to see in this year’s Asian Sailing Federation Youth (ASAF) Cup Final Series, where he represented Hong Kong – as a Hong Kong Optimist Sailor – and was awarded second place in the boys, and third overall. The series was made up of four gruelling races in Hong Kong, India, Singapore and UAE, each race lasting four days.
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Like any other sport, sailing calls for specialist knowledge – in this case, of the unique “comeptition ground”.
“Sailing requires technique and being able to read the changes in nature,” said Douglas. “The waves in Hong Kong are normally a metre tall, but in Dubai they reached a peak of three metres. I had to work hard to prevent the waves breaking on top of my boat.”
It wasn’t only the waves that he had to deal with – as one of the youngest and lightest competitors, Douglas had the extra task of weighing his boat down, which was especially important when conditions were windy. However, he was unfazed by this, and instead worked on improving his physique and sailing technique, as well as on recuperating between races by eating healthily and rehydrating adequately.
Though undaunted by his disadvantages, all of his pre-race training and travelling for the sport has taken its toll.
“I’m away from school a lot, and the training is hard on me,” said Douglas, “I try to do my homework when I’m at the airport or on the plane. When I take part in an international regatta, I have to travel by plane. I find staying healthy and hydrated to be really hard when I have to fly.”
But not even these problems can quell Douglas’ love of the sensation of the wind carrying him along, or the social side of sailing competitions.
“I really enjoy boat handling. It’s great when I get all the things right – reading the wind, mainsheet and my body position,” he said. “And I’ve made some close friends from being a part of the Hong Kong team. It’s amazing how we can still stay good friends even though we’re fiercely competitive on the water,” he said.
All that competitiveness has stood Douglas in good stead – he has been recognised as an elite athlete by the Hong Kong Sailing Federation and the Hong Kong Sports Institute. He has even attended a talk given by his role model, competitive sailor and British Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie.
“I was inspired by the advice he had for young people on persisting against all odds,” said Douglas.
Although Douglas is not quite in his teens, he has already done a lot for sailing in Hong Kong, and has his competitive sailing future mapped out in his head.
“My goal is to represent Hong Kong in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia,” he said, adding that he will be aiming for a top five finish. And his plans don’t stop there – because by the age of 15, Douglas also wants to be trying his hand at even more different boat classes, before using his favourite one to compete at future world championships. The ultimate goal? To be competing at the Olympics. Just like Sir Ben himself.
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
Hall of Fame. Not because of the title, but because of the lyrics: “Don’t wait for luck. Dedicate yourself and you gon’ find yourself”.
You can take the abilities of any animal during one competition. Which do you choose and why?
A dolphin. It’s smart, can sense things using echolocation and, most importantly, is super fast!
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
Bananas. They give me lots of energy – although sometimes they get squashed in my sailing dry bag or get soaked by sea water …
Which fictional character would you choose as your team mate?
I would love to hang out with Popeye. Well, as long as he doesn’t bring his pipe!
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I’d sign on with a planet sustainability NGO or charity organisation. I have experienced, first-hand, the polluted waters and temperature changes brought about because of climate change.
I want to help minimise the damage we’re doing to the Earth and encourage others to embrace our beautiful natural world.