Speedster on the water

To de-stress, the pint sized athlete listens to loud rock music and plays the guitar when she has some time off — Pix courtesy of Hanifah Yoong Yin Fah
Aaliyah trains five days a week — Pix courtesy of Hanifah Yoong Yin Fah
The goal driven young woman was also named one of Disney's Dream Big, Princess Asia ambassadors last year. — Pix courtesy of Hanifah Yoong Yin Fah

THOUGH only 13 years of age, Aaliyah Yoong Hanifah is a veteran when it comes to water skiing. Having started water skiing on double skis at five years old, a time when most kids are still learning the alphabet, the petite athlete took to water skiing as naturally as a duck takes to water.

In the years that followed, she bagged medal after medal. Winning the 2011 SEA Games Women Tricks event made her the youngest gold medalist ever in 50 years of the sports championship's history. She scored the gold once again four years later at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore.

Currently ranked third worldwide overall in the under-14 category by the International Waterski & Wakeboard Federation, she became the first Asian to take the gold medal home in the Asia-Oceania category since the creation of the Asia-Oceania Waterski and Wakeboard Championships.

It's no surprise that she has such a strong affinity for water sports though. She is a part of the extraordinary Yoong Hanifah sports clan which includes her half-siblings two-time SEA Games champion and former F1 driver Alex Yoong and national water ski coach Phillipa Yoong. Her younger brothers Aiden and Adam Yoong Hanifah are also Asian-ranked trick skiers.

Though she may be young, she is certainly inspiring people in spades.

Could you describe your training routine?
I usually train five days a week but when I can, I train six days before and after school unless it's the weekends or holidays, then I stay at the site and ski all day and sometimes do gym at the end of the day.

What's on your mind when you're on the water?
Since tricks, slalom and jumps are very fast and there's a lot of explosive action, there's not a lot of time to think when I'm competing but when I have time, I think about getting over the ski and be strong for my lower body and core. Sometimes before I do my run or jump, I look around – at the crowd and at my teammates back at the dock.

What is your favourite trick and why?
I would say it's my flips because I get to go upside down and they're high scoring tricks.

What are some of the challenges you've encountered in competitive water skiing?
The main challenges are … the school work, school work and school work due to me being off school more than 80 days a year, but I'm managing it.

What's the best part about being a competitive water skier?
Besides winning and setting personal bests, the best part is travelling to different countries and meeting people from all over the world which gives me international and global experiences.

Being a competitive water skier has taken you to many countries. What's your favourite place and why?
I'd say Melbourne, Australia and Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, US. Melbourne because I love how everybody walks everywhere and the city vibe is really nice, and Santa Rosa beach because it's where I can train with Cory Pickos; he's one of the best coaches in the world.

What's your favourite water skiing-related memory?
It's still the time when I first won a gold medal in the SEA Games in Palembang, Indonesia in 2011 when I was eight and beating all those grown women.

If you had never attempted water skiing, what do you think you'd be doing instead?
Oh, that's a tough one, I may be doing another sport like horse riding (but it's too expensive) or athletics because my dad is a good athletics coach and was a national runner himself in the 60s, or being an electric guitarist because my mom has a history of being involved in music.