As huge waves, kicked up by ferocious winds, rolled along the surface of the Penghu waters in the Taiwan Strait, Hong Kong windsurfer Earl Cheung Tin-yu could barely stand on his board. He narrowed his eyes to see what was in front of him, but rain pelted his face, making it impossible for him to keep his eyes open, he tells Young Post.
As much as he wanted to complete the race, he knew that for his own safety, he had to give up. He tried to turn the board back toward the shore with all his strength, but he was too exhausted and had to be dragged back by a coach boat.
He breathed a sigh of relief after returning safely to shore. Staring at the bruises all over his body, he had one thought: “I have to come back stronger”.
One year later, at the 2018 RS:X Windsurfing Asian Championships also held on the Penghu islands, Earl lived up to his vow. The 18-year-old came out on top after 12 intense races against Asia’s best junior windsurfers, finally getting his hands on the all-important gold medal.
“The result was kind of expected. I went into the competition with the aim of getting gold,” said Earl, speaking to Young Post recently.
The reigning Asian youth champion says the key to winning the tournament was knowing how to use strong winds to his advantage, a skill he’s been practising and refining for years. During any race, he needs to stay focused, keeping track of the wind speed and direction. By doing so, he can seize the right moment to adjust his rig, and let the wind propel his board forward.
Clearly, windsurfing requires so much more than physical strength. Competitors must be equipped with geographical and meteorological knowledge to cope with the abrupt changes in weather and on the water surface.
Breakages also occur all the time, from a splintered mast or a cracked fin, to a dent on the board. There are many factors beyond Earl’s control that can upset his performance, but it’s this aspect of the sport that Earl finds most exciting.
“I love how unpredictable windsurfing is; it never bores me,” the PLK Vicwood KT Chong Sixth Form College student enthused.
While he is a lot calmer now when faced with severe weather, Earl, who picked up the sport at the age of 10, admits that being out on the sea can be quite intimidating for beginners. After earning a spot on Hong Kong’s junior reserve team in 2013, his training venue was moved from Tai Po to Stanley, where the waves are much stronger. He recalls how he broke into cold sweat during his first training session in Stanley, overwhelmed by the fear of crashing into a rock and downing.
Looking back, however, Earl said his advice for his 13-year-old self would be to simply remain calm, because anxiety will slow down your reaction time. “You must believe in yourself. Don’t let one second of hesitation mess up your whole race.”
Ever since he claimed the Asian youth champion title, Earl has been uncertain about his future, as he has a number of big decisions to make: should he be a full-time windsurfer, become a windsurfing coach, or follow the traditional path of getting a degree and finding a stable job? It all seems overwhelming. But regardless of which path Earl takes, what he ultimately wants is to give back to his family in return for all their support.
“My family has been helping me fulfil my dreams since day one,” he says. “I think it’s time for me to contribute back to the family and take good care of them.”