Sports

Little Maisie Ong, 7, making big waves

S'pore Wake Park, travel ban contribute to wakeboarding's popularity among kids

Standing at just 1.1m, seven-year-old Maisie Ong might be one of the youngest wakeboarders at the Singapore Wake Park at East Coast Park, but she hardly looks out of place.

Thanks to the cable-ski system, the Primary 1 pupil manoeuvres fearlessly on the water and even on obstacles such as the table top, an elevated platform.

Her brother, Seth, who is two years older, is no different and dons an eye-catching helmet with red mohawk spikes, along with more tricks to his repertoire.

The siblings took part in last month's Back2Basics tournament in the kids' novice (Under-10) category - their first competition just six months after picking up the sport.

Seth emerged as the champion, with fellow Singaporeans Arno Pichoir and Vance Chan Xuan finishing second and third respectively.

Seth, who pulled off a 540-degree table-top, was in disbelief and overjoyed to bag a trophy in his debut tournament.

Maisie, who turned seven earlier this month, was one of the youngest competitors. She said her favourite moment from the event was "when daddy said he was proud of me".

Competition director and former president of the Wakeboard Association (Singapore) David Ngiam noted that thanks to the cable-ski set-ups at the Singapore Wake Park, there has been a growing number of kids wakeboarding since the 8,724 sqm facility opened in October 2016.

There are three cable-ski systems with varying difficulty levels - A for beginners, B for intermediates and C for advanced wakeboarders.

"System A speeds simulate a gradual pick-up which is beginner-friendly especially for children," Ngiam told The New Paper.

Parents can also spend their time watching the proceedings from the side, which makes this an appealing outing for the family.

"The water sports industry picked up significantly after the circuit breaker because, after travel borders were closed, this is the next best thing," Ngiam added.

"You're in the water and you have some sun which gives a sense of being overseas."

Singapore Wake Park's operations director Ekanaga Hatta said there are more than 100 active members aged 10 and below.

"We have been fully booked since the circuit breaker lifted and see an average of 500 (bookings by) kids a month," he said.

Maisie and Seth's fervent start matches that of national wakeboarder Sasha Christian and waterskier Mark Leong, who started at the age of five and 10 respectively and have gone on to win medals at the SEA Games.

The Ongs were introduced to the sport only about six months ago by their dad Francis Ong.

The IT executive, 46, found wakeboarding as a way for his children to have fun.

Since their induction to the sport, the two Temasek Primary School pupils have become regulars at the lagoon and train up to four times a week.

"We live 15 minutes away so we'll head over when the kids don't have school or tuition," said Ong.

"The sport is not as dangerous as it seems and my kids really enjoy it. My wife Kelly and I have even started on it ourselves to become a wakeboarding family."

Ong was a former national cyclist in the 1990s, but his kids took to the waters instead of the track because of two reasons.

"There are not enough cycling facilities like a velodrome or different terrain here in Singapore, unlike for wakeboarding. Also, kids usually start at 12 years old for cycling.

"They can definitely venture into other sports when they're older and I won't force them to stick to wakeboarding but at their age now, this sport offers a fair-level playing field," said Ong.

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He shared that it is a fairly affordable sport, with the wake park offering packages that range from $20 to $50 an hour, inclusive of equipment.

But he has invested in yearly passes for his children and even their own wakeboard, binds, vest and helmet that cost about $1,500 altogether.

"They have great coaches at the wake park, like coach Yunos Yusop who has been in the sport for decades, and are happy to train and help," he said, adding that he hopes more kids will take up wakeboarding.

While Maisie and Seth look forward to visiting the wake parks in Thailand and the Philippines when travel restrictions are eased, they have also enjoyed the highs from their first tournament.

They have since returned to the wake park to prepare for a competition next month.

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