Alex Fong, Sydney Olympian and Canto-pop star, readies himself to swim around Hong Kong Island – ‘I underestimated the ocean’

South China Morning Post November 2, 2019 06:30:00

The 39-year-old says he’s been hit by just about everything – headaches, swelling and seasickness – in his bid to raise money for A Drop of Life

The Sydney Olympian has already collected more than HK$5 million and hopes to complete the task in around 12 hours

Alex Fong said training for his Hong Kong Island loop has been a crazy adventure of obstacles and hurdles. Photo: Antony Dickson

The number of obstacles and variables Alex Fong Lik-sun is going to encounter when he takes to the water off Hong Kong Island is a bit mind-boggling.

The 39-year-old actor, singer and former Olympian will look to swim 45 kilometres clockwise around the island on Tuesday for A Drop of Life charity.

Fong, who competed in three events at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, before becoming a Canto-pop star, TV host and movie actor with more than 50 films to his credit, said the first time he got out in the open water was a bit of a shocker and resulted in some interesting press.

“I didn’t know I would get seasick,” said Fong, who has already raised HK$5 million and estimates the swim will take between 12 and 14 hours and about 31,500 arm pulls. “And I lost my direction, the waves were a lot. And then I puked, I think I puked because of the heat, and it was in the Chinese newspapers that I puked four times in a row – it was an entertainment headline the next day.”

Fong said training out in the open water has brought a lot of interesting hurdles. Photo: Handout

Fong said that wasn’t even the worst. Although he has long had the nickname “Little Flying Fish”, the first time he got out of the sea after he had finished, his face and tongue had swollen up from the saltwater, and he had a headache due to dehydration.

“I thought seawater would be more buoyant,” he added with a chuckle. “So now every time before I swim I also take a pill for seasickness. I underestimated the ocean.”

Fong has been an ambassador for the local charity since 2007. It is committed to bringing clean water to impoverished areas in Nepal, Cambodia and China.

Fong after a long swim in the open water with a swollen face. Photo: @alexfongliksun

Fong said having swam in a pool his entire life did little to prepare him for the harshness of Mother Nature. The Steven Spielberg Jaws trilogy, which came out in the 1980s, had a serious impact on him. He had never done much more than wade into the sea when he decided to undertake this endeavour, inspired by Simon Holliday, who swam the same route around the island back in 2017 also for charity.

Fong recently opened the Hong Kong Swimming Academy for children, which teaches courses out of various schools, and initially started training for his island loop last June.

Fong admits he had packaged up swimming as part of his past at that point in his life, content to rest on a resume that includes two Hong Kong records in the 200m backstroke (2:05.47) and 400m individual medley (4:29.02) in Sydney – times he still holds to this day.

“I didn’t have a goal and I knew that I would never be a better swimmer than I was back then. I hadn’t swam more than say 400 metres at a resort in close to 20 years. So the first time I got into the pool and did 800 metres, my arms were so sore I couldn’t lift them any more.”

Fong competing for Hong Kong in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Photo: Handout

Fong built his way up to 8,000m and then started adding more long swims. He has now clocked more than 400 hours of training. He credits joining the Open Water Swimmers Group of Hong Kong for helping him train and teaching him a few tricks about navigating unpredictable waters.

Fong said one time he headed out alone for a training session from Stanley Pier towards Repulse Bay and Mother Nature, once again, was not having any of it.

“In the pool I can easily swim a 1,000 metres in say 15 minutes, but that time I swam into a tidal current and it basically took me half an hour to swim 500 metres, so it was a bit scary and I was getting a bit worried.”

Fong said there is also another set of variables which includes garbage, gasoline and small bugs that can bite.

While he will have a kayaker guiding him and a support boat passing him food, he still has to contend with some of the busiest nautical thoroughfares in the world. He will also have an official escort from the Hong Kong Marine Department.

Fong eating while swimming during a training session. He said he will be drinking about 500ml of water per hour. Photo: Handout

Fong said he had experts pick the date and expects the area from Chai Wan around the west side of the island will be the toughest. He will set off from Sandy Bay.

Through it all, he said knowing he is doing it for charity will give him the motivation to keep going. He added he also has the kids at the Hong Kong Swimming Academy, who he doesn’t want to let down. Of course, they also have some interesting questions about being out in open water for around 12 hours.

“The kids, they say to me, ‘Coach Alex, how will you go to the toilet?’ And I just have to tell them – it is just going to happen.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: another challenge for ‘little flying fish’


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