With the Kingdom having hosted its first international sailing event with the Southeast Asian Sailing Championship 2021 earlier this month, The Post meets two young local sailors to look out for as the sport continues to grow ahead of the 2023 Cambodia SEA Games.
Somsoriya standing tall as pioneer
As the first ever female sailor to have represented the Kingdom at an international sailing competition, pint-sized Tith Somsoriya is making a statement of intent for Cambodian women.
The petite 17-year-old was the only Cambodian female sailor in action at the Southeast Asian Sailing Championship 2021 in Sihanoukville earlier this month.
Not bad for someone who could not even swim when she took up the sport five years ago.
“My parents were worried that I would drown and were not happy that I wanted to take up sailing,” said Somsoriya.
While she herself was unsure of the road ahead, her inability to swim did not stop her from taking the plunge.
“I was nervous but decided to try it anyway using a life jacket. I learnt swimming at the same time I was sailing,” she said.
She added that it took a good one year before she could swim with confidence in the sea.
Somsoriya was also given plenty of encouragement by her sister to not give up on her dreams of taking up the sport competitively.
Growing up on the Ream Naval Base, was smitten by the sport when she saw the men trying the sport back in 2016. It was early days for sailing in Cambodia, with the national association of the sport barely a year old.
Being the only female international in Sihanoukville has not dampened her love for the sport and her attempts to get more Cambodian girls taking up the sport.
“I have been trying to convince my friends to take up sailing but they are all still afraid. They are still reluctant to give it a try,” she lamented.
Somsoriya, who is currently training under the watchful eye of Vin Kao Veasna, the pioneer of sailing in Cambodia, said her friends’ fears were similar to what she went through earlier.
“The sails are more than four metres in height and I myself am short, it is imposing,” said Somsoriya, who stands only 1.53m (five feet) .
Despite her diminutive stature, Somsoriya is standing tall as a pioneer for Cambodia women sailors in the international arena.
And having conquered the waves, she has cleared the way for more Cambodian women to excel not only in sailing, but sport in general. CAMSOC
Sunheng back on board after overcoming adversity
Adversity impacts people differently, but for promising young sailor Heang Sunheng it has built character. The 21-year-old was so distraught following the sudden death of his uncle that he almost gave up sailing completely.
Sunheng reported to the training camp for the Southeast Asian Sailing Championship and helped his Cambodian teammates dominate the RS One windsurfing event, finishing first, second and third ahead of strong Singaporean competitors.
“I lost the will to do anything after my uncle passed on – but I am now ready to do my best for the nation and the sport,” said Sunheng.
Having lost his parents when still a toddler, his uncle became father figure. A motorcycle accident at the end of 2019 took his uncle’s life, and Sunheng was so emotionally drained that he felt no compulsion to continue with sailing.
Sunheng, who hails from Kampong Speu, took up the sport with the support of his uncle when still a teenager.
It was only in the week before the Southeast Asian Sailing Championship 2021 in Sihanoukville that national sailing coach Vin Kao Veasna managed to coax him back to the sport in which he holds so much promise.
And while Sunheng did not participate in Sihanoukville as he had not trained for the previous two years, he expects to be back at his best before Cambodia hosts the SEA Games in 2023.
Placed in a monastery following his parent’s demise, it was the timely intervention from his uncle that opened sailing up to him.
His uncle was serving in the Cambodian navy and staying at the Ream Naval Base, exposing Sunheng to the sport early on.
Sunheng proved to be a natural, learning the rudiments of sailing quickly and advancing faster than his peers.
In his first international outing in Thai sailing hotbed Pattaya, he finished fifth but captured the attention of others with his performance.
Speaking at the Southeast Asian Sailing Championship in Sihanoukville, he said the past two years had been an emotional rollercoaster ride for him.
“I was feeling a lot of pressure and it was not until I found another adoptive parent that things have changed,” said Sunheng.
He now works as a driver in Phnom Penh, and lives with the retired army officer who recently adopted him.
When Cambodia host the SEA Games in 2023, be sure to look out for this young man – one who has overcome adversity and is again finding peace in life. CAMSOC