SINGAPORE - The pandemic may have put a halt to family snowboarding trips in Japan for Seth and Maisie Ong, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the siblings.
With borders closed owing to Covid-19 travel restrictions, their parents Francis and Kelly decided to let the duo try out wakeboarding in August 2020.
Seth and Maisie, who are 10 and eight respectively, fell in love with the sport and finally got the chance to compete last week at the July 14-17 World Wake Association (WWA) Wake Park World Championships in London.
The siblings, who both attend Temasek Primary School, surprised everyone - including themselves - by finishing first in their respective age group categories in their first-ever competitive outing.
Seth topped the field of seven in the junior boys' traditional (Under-9) competition, while Maisie finished first out of two competitors to clinch the junior girls' traditional (U-9) title.
Seth, who is 1.4m, was pleased with his win and enjoyed his first competitive experience.
He said: "It was exciting, I liked it. The park was completely new to me, I liked riding in the park."
Maisie, who is 1.21m, was relieved to be able to pull off her tricks after overcoming some tough moments in the competition.
Her first two attempts at an air trick - a manoeuvre performed off the flat water - ended in crashes, but she remained unfazed even though her father reassured her that she would not have to compete if she did not want to.
Maisie, who managed to land the trick eventually, said: "My heart was beating very fast, I was excited to compete."
In the three months leading up to the competition, the siblings put in five hours of training six days a week, going to the Singapore Wake Park at East Coast Park after school. They also trained at a wakepark in Thailand.
Wakeboard Association (Singapore) vice-president Martin Onco, who is also a International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation council member, noted how air tricks are rare in younger age group categories as they are technically difficult and require strength and precision.
He believes that Seth and Maisie can be competitive in more senior categories at the world level if they are given opportunities to train and compete at different cable parks around the world.
Onco also hailed their feats, as well as that of Singapore-based Polish wakeboarder Kacper Lepicki - who won the junior pro traditional at the world championships - as a significant achievement for the sport here.
He said: "They're helping the local kids see where the sport can go, how they can grow and motivate them to do bigger tricks. They are at the beginning of their journeys."