If you grew up in Hong Kong, you probably have fond memories of whiling away the hours at Jumpin Gym USA, the city’s popular chain of amusement arcades.
As a kid, hitting these arcades was Ivan Tse Chun-hin’s favourite weekend activity. He was particularly drawn to one attraction: the mini bowling game. He’d spend token after token, never tiring of the thrill of seeing the pins toppling over.
Little did he know that this childhood pastime would eventually lead to a professional career in tenpin bowling – much less that he would emerge as one of the most promising bowlers in the city.
The 19-year-old has been dubbed “Hong Kong’s third bowling whizz-kid” by local media, having won numerous medals in both junior and senior competitions, including an individual bronze at the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games held in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan in 2017.
His two predecessors are non other than world champion and cancer survivor Wu Siu-hong, and Michael Mak Cheuk-yin, who is a three-time Asian Games medallist.
“It is a pretty great feeling to be called a whizz-kid like Wu and Mak, it is indeed a recognition of my abilities,” he tells Young Post.
After becoming a member of the national youth team at 14, Tse was quickly promoted to the elite squad, where he trains and competes alongside these two “legends”. Encouraged by his success, Tse decided to take a leap of faith and become a full-time student athlete two years ago.
“I had been thinking about turning pro after graduating from secondary school. When I saw the opportunity to fulfil my wish even sooner, I just seized it,” Tse recalls.
While there has never been any doubt of Tse’s talent, this didn’t stop him feeling nervous on his first day training with the pros. He was particularly anxious about playing in front of Wu, 35, whose remarkable return to bowling after recovering from cancer has made him a household name in Hong Kong.
“I was very nervous around him at first, but we’ve become really close teammates now,” Tse says. “He always looks after young players like me, and I don’t really see the age gap between us,” he adds.
Despite being the youngest member on senior team, Tse has proven he’s a valuable asset. At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, he helped the team win a silver medal in the Men’s Team of Six. In October, the team took home gold at the 25th Asian Tenpin Bowling Championships held in Kuwait.
Still, Tse told Young Post he is striving to narrow the gap between him and his senior teammates.
“I’m still a junior player on the team, but I really want to catch up to them,” Tse says. “Maintaining consistency in my shots will be key; I know I need to work hard on that.”
To improve his strike record, Tse is turning his attention to some of the finer details of his sport, such as how to read the oil patterns on bowling lanes. He explains that the oil used to protect the surface of the lane can affect how the ball travels down it. A good bowler must be able to sense the changes in the oil pattern, and choose the right type of ball accordingly.
“Identifying the hidden oil pattern on the lane is the trickiest skill in bowling. I’m still learning how to adjust my tactics during competitions,” he says.
Tse knows he needs to train harder than ever over the next few months, as he is heading to the World Youth Bowling Championships next April. He has previously made it to the top eight in the contest, but this time he wants to earn a medal for his city.
The bowling whizz-kid also hopes that focusing on competing in the senior category next year will help to raise his profile globally.
His advice for other budding bowlers? Train hard and take advice from other pros.
“Every successful bowler has spent years training and getting advice from their seniors. Remember, no one is born to be a bowling pro,” he says.