“I started training two years ago. At that time I was a rookie. Now I'm one of the top sailors in my club. We have competitions every week. I totally enjoy sailing the ocean on my boat. It’s super cool,” said Li.
A semi-"veteran" sailor now, the learning process for Li was bittersweet. For example, learning how to keep her balance and not falling off boat was one of the many challenges. Her father, Li Shengjun, has been watching Li sail since the very beginning.
“It's been a very good exercise for my daughter. The summer training is tough, going from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., seven days a week. But she enjoys it a lot. She has become more courageous, knowing how to battle through tough conditions, like big waves or bad weather. She's also become more outgoing,” said Li Shengjun.
Not every child in China has the fortune to experience this sport. But in Qingdao, the coastal city in eastern China, sailing is much more accessible. The city has become a hub for sailing since it hosted the Olympic sailing competition in the 2008 summer games.
The local government has also done its part to promote the sport, partly by launching a series of sailing events for primary and middle school kids in 2006. Hundreds of sailing schools and clubs for students have also been established in recent years.
One of those sailing clubs in Qingdao is called Shanhaihui. Three years ago, Yan Zheng, a professional sailor from the Shandong provincial team chose to retire. He then set up Shanhaihui with several of his teammates.
When they first brought the sport to the west coast of Qingdao, they only had a few boats and five students. Now the club has more than 20 students, Yan told CGTN.
“We wanted to run it as a professional club. Thankfully our boats were subsidized by the Qingdao government. And now we have our own training ground,” said Yan.
Yan believes sailing is a good sport for kids as it teaches them not only physical skills but also independent thinking, like how to read wind directions, water flow, as well as your opponent. This is why he is a strong advocate of growing more youth participation in sailing across the country.
“In countries like the UK, sailing is not just a sport for the professional athlete, but mostly a hobby for ordinary people. Kids there start to learn sailing at the age of 10 and have their own boat. It’s very common for families to bring their boat to the beach and sail on the ocean. There is an entire development chain. In this regard, we have some catching up to do,” Yan added.
Yan’s club now brings its students abroad, giving them the opportunity to compete with young sailors from other countries. He believes such exchanges are both beneficial to the students and the club in the long run. In fact, Li Ziyue has recently competed in a race in Singapore.
The day we were there happened to be the birthday of one of Li Ziyue's club mates. Li says sailing has bonded her with a group of friends, who share the same passion for the sport.