Wakeboarding world champ gives tips to Hong Kong squad
James Boggia learned the basics of his sport in this city and is now advising the Hong Kong squad
James Boggia left Hong Kong 10 years ago to study in Australia. He returned this week to his roots as a world champion in wakeboarding, and to give a helping hand to the Hong Kong squad preparing for next month's IWWF World Cable Wakeboard Championships in the Philippines.
"It was done mainly as a 'thank you' to Joe Hung, the Hong Kong coach who taught me the sport when I was young," Boggia said.
"I wanted to give something back to Hong Kong and what better way than to give some tips to the national squad preparing for their first major international competition."
Boggia, 20, won the World Wakeboard Association World Championship in 2010, the same year he was voted as the best pro-rider in Australia. Adept at the tricks of his trade, his services were much sought after by the local athletes on Friday.
"Our riders don't have much experience in cable wakeboarding. We mostly train behind a boat and having someone of the calibre of James here is great. I hope he will keep coming back to Hong Kong for the sport is still very much in its development stages," said Joe Hung Chou-io, a longstanding coach and driving force in the local wakeboarding scene.
Hung will take a three-strong squad - Gilbert Cheng Ka-hing, Don Kong Wai-lun and Julian Shamdas - to the Philippines for the biennial championships held under the banner of the International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation. Boggia will also be a competitor, turning out for Australia as the world's top riders from more than 30 countries come together in Angeles City, 80 kilometres north of Manila.
But all eyes will be on a two-strong International Olympic Committee delegation that will be there to assess the sport's credentials as a medal sport at the 2020 Games.
"I believe we have a strong chance of becoming an Olympic sport," said Boggia. "Our sport is thrilling and crowd pleasing and has made tremendous strides in recent years. It is getting bigger and better and most importantly draws a young crowd which I think is attractive to the IOC." Cable wakeboarding will be in contention with seven other sports for just one berth at the 2020 Summer Games. The others are baseball, softball, roller sports, squash, sports climbing, wushu and karate.
Hung was also confident that the sport, which has an active following of more than 1,000 in Hong Kong, would get the nod.
"We have a huge chance of making it. At the last Winter Olympics, snowboarding - the cousin of wakeboarding - was a huge hit with the fans and the IOC. This is a sport for the young and has drawn the attention of sponsors and television which I believe makes it ideal to be an Olympic sport," Hung said.
Wakeboarding has a strong following in Europe with around 30 million enthusiasts. In Asia, the sport is growing rapidly but still has some way to go to match Europe. In Hong Kong, there is only one cable wakeboard facility and that, too, is apparently facing issues with its licensing.
"Our squad mostly trains overseas. We have been preparing for this event [in the Philippines] by travelling around Asia for the past three months," said Hung.
Not ideal, but on Friday there was a smile on the faces of the competitors as Boggia showed them the ropes.
"I used to waterski in Hong Kong as a kid and Joe taught me a lot. I have kept in touch with him and, with the Hong Kong team preparing for the wakeboard championships, I thought it would be good to come back and help them," Boggia added.
Hung welcomed the return of his former charge. He said: "We need all the help we can get before we go to the Philippines, where we will be playing with the big boys. If Hong Kong can get to the semi-finals I will be happy."