NGWE SAUNG, MYANMAR (AFP) – Competitive surfing was barely known in Myanmar a few years ago but one local beach town is riding a wave of enthusiasm to the SEA Games for the first time ever.
Paddling hard and smiling, Thwe Thwe Soe flung herself up on the board just as a wave was breaking, spreading her arms out for balance before getting knocked off.
“I can’t live without surfing,” she said after a day in the blue waters off the small coastal resort town of Ngwe Saung. “I did not expect to be chosen for the national team but I’m thrilled at the opportunity.”
The South-east Asian country is flanked by surf-ready coasts to the west and south, but decades of military rule, lack of equipment and poverty kept aspiring athletes from testing the waters.
The 25-year-old encountered the sport while studying in southern California and has been hooked since, saying she “always feels happy” on the water.
Now she is going up against the region’s giants at the Nov 30-Dec 11 Games in the Philippines.
Thwe Thwe Soe has one of the best chances to win a medal among the handful of surfers going, but all are training hard.
“We surf for at least four to six hours a day,” said American coach Robert Brickell, a 26-year-old originally from New York.
The mild waves at Ngwe Saung present a paradox fo
r competitive surfers – they are good to learn on but much tamer than the conditions in surfing hotspots.