Jet skiing, open-water swimming and traditional Khmer boxing drew the biggest crowds and loudest cheers as the one-day Sea Festival, marking Cambodia’s membership of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World Club, ushered in the new year at Sihanoukville’s Ochheuteal Beach on Saturday.
The first-of-its-kind festival was organised jointly by the ministries of tourism and culture, with active support from the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia and several other federal agencies.
By the time the countdown for 2012 began, a breathtaking display of fireworks was bringing to an end a day of bustling activity at the venue.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the Kingdom were treated to lilting music, multinational cuisine and a few seabound adventure sports that had not been tried in Cambodia before.
Expectedly, jet ski racing was a huge draw and a group of half a dozen local adventurers kept the throng in good humour.
Kao Huong, with his hilarious antics on the machine, turned out to be a popular winner in the men’s 700cc class, with Hong Chin and Bun Ly taking the minor placings.
In the 650cc category, Preap Ravy zoomed his way to victory ahead of Hong Toch and Prak Bunthan.
Despite being overshadowed in the competition, Hong Chin ranks as the pioneer of jet-skiing in Cambodia.
The 42-year old was the first to introduce this business at the beach, bringing with him a wealth of experience he had gained in Thailand.
Hong Chin, who is also the chief of a 16-strong force of rescuers at Ochheuteal Beach, told the Post that he would love to have such festivals every year.
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia secretary-general Vath Chamroeun, meanwhile, predicted a promising future for the sport after watching the competition from close quarters.
“If the crowd reaction was any guide, people were thrilled to their bones watching these jet-skiers zooming around in great patterns. I feel it will grow big in years to come,” he said.
Although bokator and volleyball were more exhibition-style, open-water swimming was the most fiercely contested event of the day.
Hem Thon Ponloeu, representing the Kehmoneakoum Club, was one of the early leaders when a field of a dozen swimmers jumped into the sea for the men’s 5-kilometre race. He never slackened his resolve, romping home in 1 hour, 13 minutes and 50 seconds.
Nine minutes behind him was Leom Uddom, from the Ola Tourism Club, with Phin Rotha of National Training Centre third.
In the women’s 3km event, national swimming team member Hem Thon Vitiny, Ponleu’s niece, proved a point that she is equally at home when it comes to rough water.
Swimming with great confidence, she brought up a double for Kehmoneakoum Club by winning the first open-water swimming event held in Cambodia in a smart time of 51 minutes, 57 seconds, a full five minutes ahead of Eng Samphors, of Chumpovann High School. Sovann Otumpor, of Ola Tourism Club, finished third.
Talking to the Post after her victory, Hem Thon Vitiny said swimming in the pool and the sea were totally different experiences. “Sea water is salty and you have to swim against the waves, which is not easy. It was tough but I enjoyed it,” she said.
Cambodia is yet to produce a swimmer qualified to take part in the SEA Games 5km, 10km or 15km ocean races, but Hem Thon Vitiny for one feels she could step up to the 5km mark.
Meanwhile on the sandy beach, Neak Chantha took the men’s 5km run in a needle finish with Poeu Hok, just a fraction of a second separating the two. Poeu Paly was a close third.
Khean Srey Rath won the women’s 5km event, finishing ahead of Touch Maly and Keo Sotheavy.
In the 3km swim for disabled men, Kang Kan took top honours, beating Chheom Tort and Seng Kong into second and third places respectively.
“We had some scheduling issues with some of the events this time. This is our first experience,” Vath Chamroeun said.
“I think this festival will get bigger and better in the years to come. We are very happy with the turnout and the people’s response.”