'After racing so many years with the Mistral, it's a challenge. I hope I can learn it fast' This year's Hong Kong Open, which starts today in Stanley, is wide open with the leading contenders keyed up to test their new sailboards, many for the first time. The four-day regatta has attracted 26 foreign competitors, including Israel's only Olympic champion Gal Fridman, Asian Games winner Phanuthat Ruamsamp of Thailand and the newly crowned National Games medallists Yao Fukwen and Chen Peina. Many of the sailors, who also hail from Japan, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, will participate in the RSX class, which involves the new Neil Pryde RSX sailboards to be used at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Twenty of the 47 entrants will race in the RSX class, the rest competing in the Mistral category. Seven of Hong Kong's elite squad, including the five-member team who recently returned from the National Games in Nanjing, will also take part in the new class. '[The two sailboards] look alike but they are totally different,' Fridman said after yesterday's opening ceremony. 'The RSX's sail is bigger and the board is shorter,' The Olympic champion will be racing in the RSX class for the second time, having used the new sailboard for the first time in September. He is expecting a steep learning curve. '[I want to] have fun in the competition, try my best and learn what I need to learn. It's the first stage of my campaign to the 2008 Games,' the 30-year-old Israeli said. 'After racing so many years with the Mistral, it's a challenge to learn it. I hope I can learn it fast.' Fridman will have an advantage over China's Yao, who will be using the sailboard for the first time today. 'I don't know how it will be as I haven't used this type of sailboard before,' said the 21-year-old, who has targeted a minimum third-place finish in Hong Kong. 'It should be an advantage for European windsurfers, given that the sail is now bigger, which aids those bigger and heavier people,' Yao said. With Olympic and National Games winners taking part, last year's champion Ho Chi-ho expects a tough time defending his title. Ho said: 'The new sailboard has a slower speed than the Mistral, which makes it harder to compete in longer races.' Leading Hong Kong's female windsurfer Vicky Chan Wai-kei, who has practised with the RSX for more than a week, said whoever adapts to the new board the quickest will be well-placed to win. 'It's a completely different thing,' she said of the sailboard, adding that it was not important to win but to practise with the board this time. 'We need to learn and tune our techniques from the beginning.'