New sports are always welcome in China. Chinese people don’t shy away from trying something new, even if it may seem bizarre at first glance. Having the right equipment isn’t really important – at least in the first step.
Skiing in jeans wasn’t uncommon until just recently; participating in the new trend was the motto. Things are similar with the water sports segments of kayaking and stand-up paddling.
Long lines formed at the water sports test stations at the ISPO Open Demo Day before ISPO SHANGHAI 2017, and the water sports demo area was also exceedingly well booked during the three days of the trade fair.
ISPO.com spoke with the Olympian Xu Yaping, who competed for China in the kayak sprint in 2008 in Beijing, at ISPO SHANGHAI about the development of water sports in the Middle Kingdom, what problems are still restricting the trend, and where the heart of Chinese water sports beats.
ISPO.com: Xu Yaping, you’ve stepped back from active competitive sports. What is your engagement in kayaking like these days?
Xu Yaping: I’m focusing heavily on making water sports better known in China. On one hand I teach courses at Shanghai University, where I’m also earning my Masters, and on the other I’ve invested in a water sports school for children. Many former athletes get involved as lecturers at the university after their careers, to slowly lead the next generation to the top of the world.
Aside from the competitive sports sector: How popular are water sports in China’s general public?
It is getting better, but water sports are still a very small niche. That’s primarily due to two things. First and foremost, all bodies of water and waterways are state-owned, which makes practicing the sports not all that easy.
Furthermore, the quality of instructors and guides still isn’t all that good. There still aren’t any real standards in that regard, which results in several water sports clubs that are only thinking about fast money. That doesn’t exactly strengthen customers’ trust in trend sports like kayaking or stand-up paddling.
What would need to get better, then?
Kayaking needs to become more visible as a sport for everyone, that’s naturally heavily associated with less restrictive access to the bodies of water. I believe that the government has understood that some rethinking needs to be done here.
China’s population has discovered the outdoor sports. We competitive athletes also need to refine ourselves in terms of visibility. We only train and exercise in this elite circle; instead, we need to help promote our sport.
Which water sport is currently most popular among the Chinese?
I would say that the easier a sport is to learn, the more it will be accepted by the people. Thus, SUP and kayaking are at the very top for the Chinese. Rowing is comparatively more expensive and more physically challenging, while the degree of difficulty is definitely the entry barrier for surfing.
You mentioned that China’s citizens have discovered the outdoor sports. Where does the heart of water sports beat for the Chinese, in the cities or in the outdoors?
The fact is that the water sports community is for the most part located in the cities, but the sport is done outside. Many city-dwellers regularly travel up to an hour to practice their sport outside the metropolises.
And where does Xu Yaping prefer to kayak?
For logistical reasons, I prefer foreign waters, since too many interruptions restrict the fun of the sport in China. You often have to bypass reservoir dams or weirs, and that doesn’t make kayaking all that pleasant. It’s significantly more natural outside China.