WATER sports are still relatively rare in Myanmar, but that hasn’t stopped Phone Kyaw Moe Myint, the undisputed Jetsurf-racing king of Inya Lake, from getting his spray in.
The 31-year-old extreme sports junkie and manager of the Myanmar Yachting Federation represented Myanmar at the 2016 Motosurf World Cup in China earlier this month, taking home third place in the B division for Jetsurf. A new sport that resembles other racing sports such as motocross or auto racing, jetsurf has one definitive characteristic: Athletes compete on specially designed, motorised surfboards.
“I first discovered Jetsurf on Youtube,” Phone Kyaw Moe Myint said, describing what brought him into the admittedly niche sport. “Initially I was saving up money to buy a truck to help carry my surfboards to the beach, but when I saw the Youtube videos of what the Jetsurf was capable of, I was dead set on buying it.”
The boards, produced by a US company named JetSurf, are billed as the “only motorised watercraft that can be carried by an individual person”. Weighing just 14.5 kilograms, each one is powered by a small twostroke engine that enables riders to carve in and of obstacle courses without relying on the wind or tide. As they’ve grown in popularity, enthusiasts in the Czech Republic began organising Jetsurf races, and in 2013, the first world championships were held under the Federation Internationale du Surf Motorise umbrella organisation.
Phone Kyaw Moe Myint, who already holds two Southeast Asia Games gold medals for sailing, got his board in late December 2015, building on a personal passion for extreme sports.
“I began sailing at the age of nine, and as I knew my sailing career was going to end after the 2013 SEA Games – not retired yet – I eventually started getting into surfing, windsurf and kiteboarding,” he said. “I have always loved the water and need to be doing some sort of activity on it.”
Surfing led to Jetsurfing, which he practices two to three times a week at Inya Lake. When he heard about the Motosurf World Cup, he quickly applied and began ramping up his practice schedule.
Held on September 17 and 18, the tournament featured 25 participants from a widely varied list of countries, including the Czech Republic, Canada, Slovakia, Myanmar and Hong Kong, as well as host China. As the last stop in the World Series – like F1 racing, the circuit includes many nations – Wuzhizhou island off the coast of Hainan province offered Phone Kyaw Moe Myint a chance to debut in international competition and rub shoulders with some of the best in the world.
In initial trial runs, he qualified at 11th place, which should have been good enough to get him into the A division. But after the heats were contested, he fell to the B division where he eventually placed third.
Despite the strong showing, Phone Kyaw Moe Myint left China unrecognised by tournament organisers.
“For some unknown reason, I was not given a podium finish,” he said after the race, adding that the first place in the B division was given to a rider from the A division who had not even competed in the B division finals. “It was China rules, and although I complained to the race director that it was not fair, nothing was done to change the results. I didn’t go home with a prize I believe I deserved.”
The surprise ending to his trip has not deterred his passion, however, and Phone Kyaw Moe Myint says he is determined to continue competing in the World Series next year.
“My goal is to become Asia’s best rider,” he said.
For now, he’s back to work at the Sailing Club, coaching and training kids on the weekend and sneaking in rides on his JetSurf when he has the time. Though he admits Myanmar is not quite ready for water sports just yet – culturally and financially, as boards cost between US$14,000 and $25,000 – he says he is excited to continue representing Myanmar on the global circuit.
“The best part was simply being there to compete and represent my country,” he said. “I have never met anyone with a JetSurf until now, and it was so cool to meet other enthusiasts. It really is a lifestyle, and with my aspirations to become Myanmar’s first extreme athlete, I love being in this type of environment.”
Phone Kyaw Moe Myint poses after a trial run at the 2016 Motosurf World Cup in Wuzhizhou, China, on September 17.
Phone Kyaw Moe Myint glides through the obstacle course on his JetSurf board.
JetSurf boards sit in the shade as their riders wait for their turn in the water.