The country’s first official sailing club is ready to get Cambodian students on the water, as part of a collaborative effort between Kep boutique resort Knai Bang Chatt and the Cambodian Sailing Federation (CSF).
According to Thong Khon, the minister of tourism and president of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia, in addition to providing tourists with a range of sailing courses and rentals, the club’s long-term goal is to introduce the sport of sailing to Cambodian youth.
He hopes the facility will train local sailors to compete internationally in tournaments and sporting events, such as the Southeast Asian Games that will be held in Malaysia in late August this year.
The CSF has also selected the Knai Bang Chatt Sailing Club to be one of the training facilities for the 32nd SEA Games in 2023, which will be hosted by Cambodia.
Knai Bang Chatt CEO Jef Moons is confident that the idyllic coastal town will be prepared to host events at the international games but less optimistic about a Cambodian sailing team’s performance in the 2023 event. While there may be Cambodian youth who are passionate about sailing, Moons believes it is likely that parents may not yet see it as a viable profession for their children.
“It will be up and down but it is all about participation,” he said. The new Sailing Club, which has been offering boat rentals since the end of last year and has existed as a restaurant since 2006, is the first to partner with the CSF and features both beginner and intermediate level sailing programs for ages 6 and up.
Free sailing courses will be offered to youth in the local Kep community, such as for students from the Kep International School. These programs will be run by fully trained sailing instructors, five of whom were certified by the CSF at the ceremony.
One of them, Lak Sokunthai – who trained for six months at the club to get certified – said most Cambodians know little about sailing as a sport, and many parents are afraid to let their children near the water.
“Even for swimming, some of them don’t allow children to go to the water [because] they are scared they will sink,” she said. “If you’re scared your children are going to sink into the water [then you should] let them [learn] swimming.”
She hopes that with better understanding about sailing, more parents will allow their children to take it up as a sport. Even if the sailboat capsizes, which is a normal occurrence, a good sailor and swimmer would able to right themselves. “It is safer than riding a moto [on the road],” she said. “The road is narrow and there are drunk drivers but the sea is big.”
As the only woman in the newly-certified team of sailing instructors, she also hopes that more women will take up the sport. “In Cambodia, you don’t see a lot of women sailing. But foreigners, you see a lot of them sailing, some [as young as] 18 or 19.”