Living life to the full

Thomas Lo

In a city like Hong Kong, notorious for its demanding work culture, some turn to extreme or more unusual sports for a much needed release. Four thrill-seeking CPAs talk to Thomas Lo about the activities they do to shake things up in their lives

Rio Lam FCPA, Director of Acuity Transaction Services Ltd., will never forget how he felt when he saw paragliders soaring through the sky while hiking Dragon’s Back, a trail in Shek O. “I wondered what it would be like to glide through the air, to swing, and to spiral down. I thought it would be incredible to view the landscape the way only birds see it,” Lam says. Wanting to try it out himself, he signed up for a tandem flight and shortly after landing, knew that paragliding was the sport for him. “I could feel the strong wind blowing against my face as I moved upwards. All I could hear was the sound of wind and my heartbeat. It was a feeling full of joy and exhilaration,” he recalls. “You have to try it to understand it.”

Lam is one of many CPAs who take up adrenaline-pumping activities whenever they have the time. Despite carrying a larger risk than the average hike, some Institute members find that taking part in extreme or adventure sports help them both physically and mentally, and to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Rio Lam FCPA, Director of Acuity Transaction Services Ltd., paragliding over Shek O.

A childhood dream

“Flying, I believe, is a dream for everyone,” says Lam. “But for me, it’s a dream come true.” His fascination with flying inspired him to attain his private plane license while he was living in Vancouver in 2007. He has been flying for 15 years and paragliding for five. After the tandem flight, Lam went through three months of courses to pass the P2 certification exam, allowing him to fly without the supervision of an instructor.

“Swimming, cycling, triathlons, sailing, rock climbing, scuba diving, racketball, badminton – I have done many different indoor and outdoor activities at different stages of my life. But now I only do running and paragliding – and paragliding is the best and most enjoyable. No other sport provides this level of speed, freedom and excitement,” Lam adds.

Paragliding is a derivative of parachuting but there are some key differences, Lam explains. “Unlike parachuting, it is common for us to fly for hours. We can control where we go, how fast, and how high we go,” he says.

The sport has taught Lam different lessons. “Being a paraglider requires patience – you have to wait for the right time to fly,” he explains. “Even if the observatory tells you it is the perfect day, it might not be the case and you have to go home. This happens more than you think. A bit like life, there are uncertainties and things do not always go the way you expect.”

Lam also helps the less fortunate through paragliding. In August, he organized a tandem flight in south Lantau Island for a child with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes muscle degeneration. After watching an episode of Hong Kong Connection, a documentary produced by RTHK in 2020 introducing the disorder, Lam wanted to do something to help. He contacted the family in the documentary, who were more than happy to meet with him and allow their son to paraglide with Lam.

He then recruited some volunteers to help him carry the child and equipment up 400 meters to the take-off spot on a mountain and took to the skies. “When I heard him shouting in the air with such joy, all the hard work was worth it,” Lam recalls. “I can only do so much, so I did what I could do – give him the opportunity to fly.”

Paragliding, above all, offers Lam a moment of peace away from his hectic schedule. The adrenaline rush he gets from being able to fly alongside eagles has kept on bringing him back to the sport all these years. “This is why I never get bored of paragliding,” he says, adding that he looks forward to furthering his passion for paragliding by obtaining his instructor qualification as soon as exams can safely be hosted.

No other sport provides this level of speed, freedom and excitement.”

Franklin Leung CPA, Senior Financial Planning and Analysis Manager at GoPro Hong Kong Ltd., began kayaking when he was a student.

Learning to stay positive

Franklin Leung CPA, Senior Financial Planning and Analysis Manager at GoPro Hong Kong Ltd., picked up kayaking again around seven years ago after he stopped for years, to pep up his life outside of work.

He learned how to kayak 30 years ago when he was a student, after taking courses and then deciding to qualify as an intermediate-level paddler. “I did it for a year or two, but stopped due to work commitments,” Leung explains.

According to the recommendations of the Hong Kong Canoe Union, which is Hong Kong’s only organization for canoeing and kayaking, every kayaking trip should have at least two to three people in case of an emergency. It also recommends kayaking with others who share similar levels of experience. “Being a beginner is not a really enjoyable experience, as your back, abdominals and thighs can get sore after a session,” Leung adds.

Kayaking enthusiasts must keep an eye on the weather, Leung says. “I might have to deal with choppy waves or terrible weather along the way, but this has taught me that preparation is crucial. If you know that there are monsoon winds or a thunderstorm approaching ahead of time, you better know not to go kayaking,” he adds.

One trip from Clear Water Bay to Tung Lung Island was particularly challenging, he recalls. “The first half of the trip was great. I was effortlessly riding along with the wind and the waves. But the return trip was torture,” he elaborates. “I paddled and only moved about one kilometre in an hour because of the winds. Every time I stopped, I drifted backwards. This experience taught me to plan ahead.”

Kayaking also builds one’s character, notes Leung. “When you go kayaking, you might think you are not strong enough, especially if you’re new to the sport. In situations like this, pick yourself up,” says Leung. “Tell yourself: ‘I will get through it and I will come back stronger.’ That’s a must. It is all about staying positive in the worst situations.”

“Tell yourself: ‘I will get through it and I will come back stronger.’ That’s a must. It is all about staying positive in the worst situations.”

Katy Wong CPA, Tax Manager at RSM Hong Kong, wake surfing in Sai Kung.

Catching waves

In the summer months, Katy Wong CPA, can usually be found aboard a flat board, taking in the sea and sun through one of the most popular water sports in Hong Kong.

Wong, Tax Manager at RSM Hong Kong, began wake surfing last year and has social media to thank for it. “My friends started wake surfing and posted photos and videos on their social media, which got me interested,” she explains. She and her friends then started meeting up in Sai Kung to practice on the weekends.

Wake surfing, Wong says, can be difficult for beginners since surfers have to tread carefully on the surface of the water as the boat accelerates, leading many to fall early on or at the start. But she found it to be relatively easy. “I could stand up straight at my first attempt, while others might get it after seven to eight attempts,” she says, adding that her running habit may have helped. “My core and legs are strong, which is a good foundation for wake surfing.”

After learning how to skim across the water, one can then move on to learning a few trick moves, Wong says, that require strong core muscles and good balance. “I am still a beginner. I learned carving, board slides, and lip slides,” Wong explains, referring to basic skills that new wake surfers can start with. “I am learning to perform the 360-degree turns and the Ollie, which is where a wake surfer jumps and stays in the air for a moment. I’ve always wanted to learn this one.”

Wong is inspired by the skills of Jodi Grassman, a female professional wake surfer who has won the Masters Wakesurf Championships twice and the Pro Wakesurf World Championship four times. In her spare time, Wong enjoys learning techniques through Grassman’s videos.

Wong’s passion for the sport continues to drive her through each challenge, and also offers her important life lessons. “You won’t get hurt even after falling a thousand times,” she adds. “Learning how to maintain balance in both life and on the board, and fighting until you succeed are the precious lessons I learn from wake surfing.”

Wake surfing also provides her with the opportunity to have deep conversations and create precious memories with her friends. It reminds her there is more to life aside from work. “Those three to four hours we spend wake surfing together are always fun, and it’s great sharing these moments with your close friends,” she notes. “These are memories we can talk about over and over again.”

“Learning how to maintain balance in both life and on the board, and fighting until you succeed are the precious lessons I learn from wake surfing.”

Ricky Hung CPA, First Vice President at China Construction Bank (Asia), participated in this month’s Cross Harbour Race.

Finding inner peace 

Since taking part in his first Cross Harbour Race in 2014, Ricky Hung CPA, First Vice President at China Construction Bank (Asia), has participated in the gruelling contest every year. “Without a goal, swimming gets boring easily. Applying for the race every year gives me a strong incentive to continuously improve on myself,” Hung explains.

First held in 1906, the Cross Harbour Race has a long history in Hong Kong. Due to water quality issues, the race was suspended for 33 years up until 2011, when the race returned and drew thousands of swimmers worldwide to swim together in Victoria Harbour. The race intrigued Hung, who has always been a keen swimmer. “Swimming across Victoria Harbour is normally prohibited by the law. So I thought ‘why not?’” he says.

Hung, who took part in this month’s Cross Harbour Race, wasn’t too concerned with beating his previous records, but viewed the event as a way to work on his technique. “It’s my sixth time competing, so not much can surprise me at this point. Instead, I wanted to refine my swimming skills,” he says. “I used to complete the race with breaststroke, but this year I wanted to push myself. Hence, I switched to freestyle. It was exhausting, but worth the effort.”

The Cross Harbour Race is physically demanding as swimmers have to swim approximately one kilometre. Factors such as the cold temperature of the water in the early hours and turbulence in open water can also be a challenge.

“Without a goal, swimming gets boring easily. Applying for the race every year gives me a strong incentive to continuously improve on myself.”

Hung usually trains twice a week. “I join the Institute’s swimming classes on Thursday night from 8 to 9 p.m. A swimming session on Thursday night is what keeps me refreshed during the week,” he explains. “If you only swim alone, you will never know how you can improve.”

Being a father of two, Hung usually brings his children to swimming classes on Sunday mornings. “Most of the time, the three of us are with the elderly and are the first batch of swimmers at 6:30 a.m.,” says Hung.

While his children are having their lessons, Hung trains by swimming in the next lane. “Neither the early hours nor time management pose any difficulty for me. The cold water is a real challenge for me to overcome,” he adds. “It puts your willpower to the test.”

For Hung, open water racing is mainly about competing with himself, noting that his Sunday morning swimming sessions have become a form of active meditation. “I find peace by focusing on my technique, breathing rhythm, and the efficiency of my movements,” he says. “I gain clarity whenever I swim. It raises my energy levels and keeps me sharp at work.”

Hong Kong’s terrain is hilly and mountainous. There are over 550 named peaks in the city and more than 700 kilometres of coastline, which offer ample opportunities to do a wide variety of extreme sports such as mountain biking, dirt biking, scuba diving, windsurfing, rock climbing, canyoneering and zip lining.

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