Eight Hong Kong canyoning adrenaline junkies pushing themselves to the edge
For some it’s about reaching places others cannot, for others it’s balancing the busyness of Hong Kong life – but all canyoneers love the combination of seeing nature from a new perspective while testing their physical and mental limits
When standing at the edge of a towering waterfall, the idea of abseiling down it – or even jumping right off – might strike fear into the hearts of many. But for one group of Hongkongers, this is their idea of a fun day out.
Canyoning is an extreme sport that combines stream trekking, abseiling, jumping, swimming and sliding. It sees people making their way down otherwise inaccessible streams and canyons not by walking around obstacles, but by going straight through them.
Originating in Europe and the US, the activity not only provides an adrenaline rush, but enables participants to explore nature in a completely new (and immersive) way. Here we meet some of Hong Kong’s courageous canyoneers who are pushing their bodies and minds to the limit:
Gordon Hon Wing-chau
Everyone in Hong Kong’s canyoning world has heard of Hon. He is one of the pioneers of the sport in the city, having run canyoning classes with his Hong Kong Rock Climbing Adventure group since 2012.
An avid rock climber and stream trekker, he got into canyoning after experimenting with different ways of travelling downstream. “For 15 years I did rock climbing before moving into stream trekking,” he says. “We would see these waterfalls so we tried to go down them using abseiling skills.”
Huot started canyoning a few years ago after being introduced to the sport by a kitesurfing friend. She describes it as a “challenge and privilege”.
“Canyoning allows us to experience nature in ways and from perspectives that we’re not naturally supposed to,” she says. “This is why it’s so important to leave no trace of us having ever been there.”
When she is not canyoning, you can find Huot kite surfing, spear fishing and ice climbing around the world.
Mark and Janchai Delecate
Mark calculates that he has done around 400-500 abseils since he first started canyoning in 2013, which equates to around 13,000 metres of vertical drops, he says.
A lover of the outdoors and rock climbing, canyoning was just a “natural progression” for him, he adds.
His mother, Janchai, can often be found canyoning alongside him. An avid stream trekker, Janchai started “nagging” Mark to take her canyoning after seeing photos of his adventures.
“I got an extra set of gear for her and she enjoys it a lot. She says it apparently helps with some of her back injuries. Since she has gone canyoning she doesn’t have pain in her lower back any more,” he says.
Canyoning provides Mark with a new level of “isolation and serenity” that he has not found in other outdoor sports. “With rock climbing you are still usually surrounded by a lot of people, whereas with canyoning you are in smaller groups and you are a lot more isolated.”
Hong Kong’s hardcore stream trekkers and canyoneers go wild in search of new adventures away from the pack
Kim Yu Tsui-kam
Despite being addicted to canyoning every since she started four years ago, Yu says the first time she had to abseil down a waterfall she found it very intimidating.
As a passionate rock climber, hers was also a natural progression to canyoning as she found it too hot to climb in summer. “Besides abseiling you get to do a bit of cliff jumping, you get to be in the water, you get to go for a swim. It is a bit of everything,” she says.
She has had some close calls though: one time while abseiling down a 35-metre waterfall, she lost her grip on the rope because the water was pounding down on her head. “I got pushed down to the water pretty fast,” she recalls, adding that she avoided injury thanks to the help of an experienced fellow canyoneer. She has never looked back.
Kenneth Yung Hon-yi
Yung helps run canyoning classes for beginners in Hong Kong. He has done canyoning for the last three years but admits he still gets a little nervous when cliff jumping.
“I am actually not that good with heights, so I just pretend I am very confident and jump,” he says. “It is a sport that keeps pushing you, making you a better person.
“With canyoning, we can reach places where other people can’t go, and that’s a great bonus for us.”
Tait has been exploring Hong Kong’s stream systems since the mid-’90s. Starting with stream trekking, he, too, fell naturally into canyoning. The Scotsman is also a shower climber, which involves climbing up waterfalls.
“Climbing a waterfall is just an amazing experience. I climb waterfalls in a particular way – I use a self belay system because I think it is safer,” he says.
Tait says people wanting to try canyoning must keep in mind the dangers involved, which include slipping on rocks and bad weather that can trigger flash flooding. Before anyone starts, they should head out with a group to learn some basic safety skills.
Popov, a product designer in Hong Kong, says canyoning helps him to recharge his “creative juices”. This is especially so in the summer months, when being outdoors can be a miserable experience due to the heat and humidity.
“Canyoning and being outdoors in general is the antithesis to the busyness of Hong Kong life,” he says. “It’s what anchors me and has allowed me to continue living here for the last 15 years. It also happens to be a perfectly balanced intense exercise, permeated by the thrill of climbing waterfalls and rappelling [abseiling] down the same, which in itself a reward.”