S'pore's surfers qualify for SEA Games despite lack of training venue
Singapore's surfers qualify for SEA Games despite the lack of a natural training venue
Singapore might not have waves huge enough for surfing, but that has not stopped Michelle Ooi from riding her way to a SEA Games spot.
The 30-year-old overcomes the lack of a natural training environment here by working out with a surfskate - a skateboard which mimics the movements needed in surfing- and going on self-funded overseas training trips.
Her efforts, and that of five other surfers, have paid off.
Last week, they earned the nod to represent Singapore at the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games in the Philippines, where the sport will be making its debut.
The veterinarian is excited and looking forward to competing at her first major Games.
She said: "I did not ever expect to compete at the SEA Games when I picked up surfing.
"I'm relieved and happy because I wasn't sure if Singapore would want to send a surf team. My family and loved ones are excited for me too."
Ooi, who also freedives, hopes to conquer the regional meet despite turning competitive only this year.
She added: "Singapore's surfers are obviously disadvantaged because there are no waves here and you can't travel all the time.
"But I like being in the water and riding waves gives me an adrenaline rush."
Ooi picked up the sport nine years ago in Brisbane, Australia, while pursuing her degree.
She moved back home in 2014 and has since invested over $25,000 on surfing trips to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
A weekend surf trip in Bali would cost about $500. Surfing closer to home at Desaru, over an hour's drive from Johor Baru, would cost about $200.
To save costs, she trains twice a week on her surfskate,which is a skateboard with a pointed front.
It is the best alternative for Ooi, who can surf only once a month.
She is also joined by the five other national surfers at Xtreme Skatepark at East Coast Park once a month.
The team are helmed by pioneer surfer, coach and founder of the Singapore Surfing Association Nazir Salleh, who conducts swim training once a week.
"Keeping in shape is a priority since we don't have waves. Whatever we can do, be it swimming and paddling to work on arm power, we'll do it," he said.
"We try to create the simulation of how we paddle on the surfboard, by using a kickboard in the pool."
Nazir, 47, also urges his team to compete in regional tournaments to master wave-riding skills.
One of the most recent meets was the Pearl of the Andaman Surfing Championships at Phuket in June.
Ooi finished second out of seven participants in the women's shortboard event, beating seasoned surfers from Malaysia, Indonesia and hosts Thailand.
It came as a shock to others and herself as this was only her second competitive outing.
Nazir, a full-time lifeguard, was impressed by Ooi's showing.
"It was my first time seeing her compete and I was surprised by her potential," he said. "She can read the waves, catch them and she's also strong at paddling out."
Despite having 10 years' coaching experience, Nazir knew the SEA Games would be a big task when he officially took up the pro-bono post in March.
Apart from coaching, he will also compete in the men's longboard event.
"It will take time for Singapore surfers to get to the top and we'll put up a good fight," he said.
"But I'm stoked. It's about time surfing made it to the major Games. Asia is the new Hawaii. It's the new hot place to surf."
Nazir hopes for a wavepool in Singapore "if we want to train properly or organise competitions".
Nonetheless, the father of two is still excited to write history for Singapore surfing.
He said: "We might not have waves here, but we have good surfers."