It was a big day for the sailing brethren last weekend with the 2013 National Sailboat Championship (全國帆船錦標賽) and the Third Huilan Cup Windsurfing Competition (第三屆洄瀾盃風帆賽) held off Beibin Park (北濱) in Hualien City. The sailing community from around Taiwan was present, with teams in various categories of sailing craft preparing to show their skills. The windsurfing category was at the top of the agenda, as this was the first time that the Huilan Cup competition would be held to international specifications, and the first time that a foreign team from the Hong Kong Sea School (香港航海學校) would be taking part.
At the opening ceremony on Saturday, Taiwan Olympian Chang Hao (張浩) also made an appearance, living proof that Taiwan, a country not known for its ocean-going prowess, has plenty of opportunities once a more comprehensive training and competitive environment has been established for these sports.
Chang said that Taiwan had a good environment for developing wind surfers and sailors. “At the moment, most of our competitors are no higher than middle rank, but that’s because the sport is only just getting started,” Chang said in an interview during the opening ceremony of the Huilan Bay Sailing Festival (洄瀾灣風帆節), an event that had been cobbled together in an effort to generate greater public interest in the sailing competition. Chang, who competed in the Beijing and London Olympics, is currently ranked 99th in the world according to the International Sailing Federation.
Chang is a native of Nantou, the only county in Taiwan with no direct access to the ocean, but relocated to Penghu to hone his skills, and has subsequently trained with Australian coach Alex Mowday. Speaking about the potential for development of sailing in Taiwan, Chang emphasized the importance of bringing over international competitors and coaches to raise the standard of the sport.
“The level in Taiwan is still pretty low,” Chang said, “there is a long way to go.”
The location of the opening ceremony at the Creative Park and Lohas Happy Farm (洄瀾灣台開心農場), a long-term investment project of the Taiwan Land Development Corporation (台灣土地開發股份有限公司) indicated that the promotion of sailing in Hualien might also be linked to the exploitation of wide tracts of land between the Hualien River (花蓮溪) and the Hualien Industrial District.
Chen Hung-ming (陳宏名) of the Ji-an Township Athletics Committee (吉安鄉體育會) said that the sailing and windsurfing competitions, and the festival now associated with them, had their origins in the development now occupied by the Creative Park and Lohas Happy Farm. Abutting both the Hualien River and the Pacific Ocean, this location could possibly vie for popularity with the already highly successful Dongshan River Water Park (冬山河親水公園) in Yilan.
“We want to create a center for water sports in this area, and even set up a permanent marina,” Chen said. “There are still considerable administrative issues that remain to be dealt with, so what we are doing at the moment is locating various water related activities here on a trial basis, as a first step to something more permanent. This will allow more people to know about this area.”
As competitors, kitted out in sunblock and protective gear, sorted out their rigging, a smattering of people watched from the pavilion, few willing to brave the blazing summer heat. While the temporary marina at the base of rough concrete steps going down the embankment was crowded with government officials, including Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅琨萁), ready to take a short ride in a scow, the public seemed ill-prepared for any activity that might involve getting wet.
Most people who were not there to support competitors — almost invariably family members — were there for a drawing competition that was part of the festival.
With a total of 180 competitors in the various categories, and races held over five days, Chen said this event was a major step forward.
“This year we are also working closely together with the national sailing federation to bring races up to international standard,” Chen said. With the participation of competitors like Chang, this might be the first step toward making sailing and windsurfing mass-market sports in Taiwan.