Waterskiers buoyed by form and confidence

MARK Leong is obsessed with waterskiing. Others count sheep to sleep, he counts buoys instead.

"I watch videos of waterski crashes when I'm stressed," said the 17-year-old, chuckling.

And as he prepares to represent Singapore at next month's SEA Games, his fascination with every aspect of the sport fuels his passion and dedication to improve.

He told The Straits Times: "I think about how to position my body at the most suitable angle, how I am using my body as a lever to make the turns and how to go at the fastest speed.

"I get carried away on Google, and can spend up to an hour researching sometimes."

Mark may be a SEA Games rookie, but when it comes to the international stage, he has already made his mark.

In March this year, he won the Indonesia Open men's slalom final in Bandung, defeating 2011 SEA Games medallists Indra Hardinata and Fath Daud Wangka, and setting a new national record at the same time with three buoys on the 12m line.

After struggling to handle both studies and waterskiing last year as he prepared for his O levels, he took a year off school to prepare for the SEA Games.

"Instead of trying to balance studies and waterskiing and eventually compromising both, I decided on a gap year to focus on the SEA Games," said Mark, who will be heading to Catholic Junior College next year.

While he is eager to win on his Games debut, others in the national squad will be hoping to repeat their successes of four years ago, when the sport last featured in the Games.

Sasha Christian, 22, clinched a gold and two silvers while Kalya Kee, 20, bagged two silvers.

Christian focused on the wakeboard events at the 2011 Games but has since realised that waterski slalom complements her wakeboarding skills.

She now has high hopes of winning her wakeboard and waterski slalom events next month, saying: "I'm feeling positive about the Games.

"We have a full team in wakeboard this year so the chances are looking good."

Kee, who is currently studying and living on campus at Yale-NUS, has had limited time to train and increased her training sessions only recently when the school vacation began.

Moreover, she will have to be her younger sister Sabelle's pillar of support when the 17-year-old makes her Games debut.

Said Kalya: "At the 2011 Games, my father (also a waterskier who is now the team manager) took care of me; now, I have to take care of my sister.

"It's both exciting and nerve-wracking."

Sabelle has found Kalya's tips and advice helpful.

"I tend to get worked up before competitions so Kalya helps to calm me down," she said.

With the waterskiing team targeting four golds at the Games, all eyes will be on them at Bedok Reservoir.

Yet, such is the confidence pervading the team that Mark's coach Paul Fong even told him: "See you on top of the podium."

berelow@sph.com.sg