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Hong Kongers are said to have descended from a mythical half-human, half-fish creature called Lo Ting. I have it on good authority that this is not true but Cantonese folklore does help to explain the city’s close ties with the sea: a source of prosperity, nutrition and endless fun. Naturally, when the pandemic shut down travel in 2020 and political events on dry land turned up the heat, the water became a vital place for all Hong Kongers to go wild and connect with their inner Lo Ting.

When I arrive at Tai Tam harbour on Hong Kong Island’s sandy south coast, an Aussie expat called Hugh is towelling off after his fourth wake-surfing lesson as a student. A hybrid of wakeboarding and surfing, it’s a popular pastime right now but there’s always a new watersport on the horizon. I’m here to try my hand at the latest, e-foiling: stubby surfboards with a single propeller underneath that can sail through the air.

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As residents flock to the beach every weekend, or go out on their boats, these flying surfboards are running rings around the usual flotilla of banana boats, inflatable unicorns and other water toys.

“It’s easy to get started but difficult to master,” says Kenny Wan, an instructor from Island Wake. Wan is in the driving seat as we head out to sea aboard a Mastercraft speedboat and pass by a dragon-boat team practising for a race. The 30-year-old is a picture of tranquillity with his long, bleached blonde hair fluttering in the breeze.

Wan cuts our engines in Turtle Cove bay and ties a rope to a yellow buoy just beyond the shark nets. Moving to the back of the craft, he inserts a battery into my beginner’s model e-foil and offers a crash course in the controller, which I must carry in my hand: press the trigger to start the motor and the buttons to adjust speed. That’s it. Just jump on and away you go. It all sounds too simple for piloting a flying machine, which can reach up to 40km/h; I’ve never accepted the offer of a life jacket and helmet so willingly.

I jump into the water, lay on the board, pull the trigger and I’m off – then I’m up. Wan was right: standing is easy. I go up a few gears and can feel the board lifting off the water.

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“Did you see that?” I ask Wan, after circling back to the boat to hand in my helmet. I must have been flying.

“Barely – just a few inches,” he says, before issuing a few more instructions. “Shift your body forward, lean back more and move your front foot up and down.”

I set off again, go up a few more gears and this time my board lifts fully off the water. Free of drag, I pick up more speed and soar over the waves. Then a gust of wind blows, there’s a wobble – and panic sets in. My propeller hits the water, followed by my board, and I go crashing into the sea, face first.

My right temple stings but I emerge from the water raring to go again. The real appeal of e-foiling is the ease of getting back in the saddle and I can now see why it’s taking off in Hong Kong. Surfers have to paddle out to catch every wave but there are no sore arms with e-foiling. Next time I can try the pro model, says Wan, as we return to the harbour. E-foiling might not keep me fit but, after two years of being stuck in Hong Kong, it has certainly given me a huge lift.

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  • The Continental Shift