When marketing executive Jeremy Young’s colleagues saw him walk into the office in shorts and flip-flops for the first time, they might have thought he had slept through his alarm and dashed straight from home. But the truth was that he had been up since 4.50am and had gone outrigger paddling.
The 52 year-old New Zealander, who moved to Hong Kong a decade ago with the life insurance company, Sun Life Financial, has been keeping to his four-days-a-week training routine for years.
“I started paddling when I moved to Hong Kong,” he says. “I'd done some surf lifesaving in New Zealand, but not for a long time. So, I started with dragon boats and gradually moved from a corporate team into more serious teams, and that led to outrigger paddling.”
He says: “By default, I became a morning person because that was when I could do the training.
“It's much easier to train in the light when you're going out into the ocean than in the dark.”
Young describes his morning preparation as being on “T minus”.
As visibility right after sunrise is generally better than the evening time, Young continues, a decision was made to go for pre-work practice sessions and he became a morning person “by default”. To stick to this schedule, he has developed a preparation routine that is on “T minus”.
He says: “It's like, right, get into gear, get it happening and constantly checking my watch to know how much more time I've got to eat my breakfast, which is porridge. I usually pack my bag for the morning the night before, so it's all ready to go.”
Watching the city wake up
Young’s training base is in Deep Water Bay, on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island, so to make it there for the practice from his Causeway Bay home he has to catch the 5.30am minibus. He has come to recognise many of the regulars on the journey and enjoy the experience.
“They're usually older people from Hong Kong's community and they're having conversations on the bus and talking from the front to the back. I think they're all on their way to Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay and Stanley for their morning swim. That's one of the things I love about Hong Kong – seeing the older people being so active and enjoying life from the very beginning of the day,” Young says. “That's a bit of a highlight every day.”
Some of his fellow passengers are heading to the beach for their morning swim.
He also loves watching the city awaken. “I love Hong Kong in the morning – when I walk out of our building and I can see Hong Kong coming to life for the day, with the street cleaners and people delivering goods to the shops or to the restaurants.”
After training, he makes his way to work on the MTR, occasionally making calls for work on his commute.
“I joke that the morning training gives me stress credits for the day,” Young says. “In the middle of the day, I'm still feeling energised from the paddling that I had in the morning. I can manage situations a lot better.”
Lifelong love affair with sports
As someone from a country famous for its unspoiled natural terrain and outdoors-oriented lifestyle, Young has been active all his life.
“I've always been a sports enthusiast,” he says. “I grew up doing athletics, surf lifesaving, running, skiing, cycling … along with the normal New Zealand sports of rugby and cricket.”
In fact, he was a professional skiing coach at one point, travelling the world to wherever the snow would fall. He even went on to represent New Zealand at the World Ski Instructor Championships and was also selected as a member of the demonstration team.
“I retired from skiing when I was 30,” he says. “I had achieved a lot of the goals that I set out to achieve in my skiing career and I felt it was time for me to move into the real world and seek a professional career outside of sports.”
A conversation with a family friend, who was a rugby-coach-turned insurance adviser, got Young into his current field.
“I joined him as an associate adviser learning the ropes,” he says. “Then from there, I moved into a business development role. That led to sales management, which eventually led to an opportunity to come to Hong Kong.”
Right at home in a new city
“Moving to Hong Kong has, from a professional perspective, really broadened my horizons,” he says. “It's an international city.”
Young thinks that moving to an international city like Hong Kong has broadened his horizons professionally, but one thing that came as a nice surprise to Young was how much the environment of Hong Kong turned out to be conducive to sports.
“There's the ocean everywhere that you can enjoy,” he says. “It's a very mountainous environment so there are the hills that you can get on. There are parks where you see people practising and training in the morning.”
“Hong Kong has a great blend of being a dynamic vibrant cosmopolitan city, but at the same time supports a great outdoor sports environment.
Being from a country where access to the countryside often means a few hours’ drive, Young loves how the dynamic urban experience and a great outdoor sports environment are often just minutes apart – on foot in this city.
“Sometimes I'll put on my trail-running gear at the office and I'll trail run home from up into the hills and there are not many places that you can do that across the globe.”
It’s in the blood
Young’s love for sports is shared by his family. “My wife is at [Hong Kong University] studying nutrition and she also paddles, but she's a runner,” he says. “She runs marathons as well. She is still able to train and do that. My daughter is now at university in Scotland, [and] she started rowing when she was in Hong Kong and she's now rowing at university, which is fantastic.”
He says paddling has also allowed him to build a social circle outside work. He also sees his practice sessions as “my time”, “focus time” and “free-thinking time”, when he often comes up with the best ideas.
“It gives me something to do completely away from my business world. It's my time. It's focus time.
“Sports have always been my way of handling stress, getting my sort of satisfaction, getting my fix,” he says. “I work long hours, but I could also find that balance through getting up early and going training.”
“Surprisingly enough, when I am on the water doing my sport, I come up with some great ideas; it's free-thinking time.
Being a lifelong sportsman also helps him achieve success in the business world. He says: “I think there's a very good connection between success in sport and success in business. A professional athlete, in order to be the best they can be, has to have that focus and that quest for getting better.”
Young has come to regard Hong Kong as home, and he has no plans to move elsewhere – at least for now. “I've been in Hong Kong for 10 years now, maybe another 10 years, who knows? Anything can happen,” he says. “The world is an interesting place and there are lots of opportunities.”
If you see him on that 5.30am minibus, do not hesitate to go up and say, “Good morning”.