For Brandon Ooi, aiming to qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics served as a good distraction from the craziness of Covid. “I [was] training full time for my dream, so life [hadn’t] really changed that much with regards to kayaking. If anything, it’s helped me to maintain a sense of normality.”
The 26-year-old national sprint kayaker and Sport Singapore Ambassador has had the opportunity to paddle through many waterways around the world. Among his top picks are The Danube, which runs through 10 countries in Central and Eastern Europe, and is the continent’s second-longest river; and Cape Coral, in southwest Florida, a city filled with over 640km of canals.
Despite the many hours he’s already spent paddling around his hometown of Singapore, Ooi doesn’t get bored of the city’s beautiful skyline as a backdrop. “I like the wind on my face and the fresh air and peacefulness of the calm waters in the morning,” he says. Before offering a list of the top five places to get started, he offers some pointers for beginners, “Kayaking isn’t as scary as it seems… You can enjoy a really different side of Singapore.”
The maximum group size for kayaking (as well as cycling and walking) tours is currently 20, making now as a good a time as any to pick up this active hobby. Check out Ooi’s picks for the best places to take off from around Singapore, along with our suggestions for some tour groups – with options for both first-timers and those seeking an adventure.
1. Learn the basics at MacRitchie Reservoir
The Singapore Canoe Federation has kayaks in the paddle lodge found at the eastern corner of MacRitchie Reservoir Park. The calm waters are ideal for beginners and even children. Participants will be taught to don and doff safety equipment like the Personal Floatation Device (PFD) and learn all of the basic dos and don’ts. The craft used for their Kayaking Orientation Programme is called a Sit On Top (SOT), a robust boat design that will not take in water easily and provides stability, however they do point out that participants should still be prepared to get wet and have fun in the water. Keep an eye out for a wide range of animals, including long-tailed macaques swinging from the trees and stingrays swimming below in the water.
2. Soak in the skyline from Singapore Sports Hub
Located along the Kallang Basin, the Water Sports Centre caters to both novice and experienced athletes. A range of instructional programmes is offered by the Sports Hub, as well as the option to rent kayaks or canoes and go out on your own. Here, Singapore’s impressive skyline serves as a brilliant backdrop, with a blend of old colonial buildings and cutting-edge architecture. As this also serves as a home base for the Dragon Boat Association, you can also explore gathering a group of friends together, signing up for a course and using the time to bond.
3. Embrace the tranquillity at Lower Seletar Reservoir Park
Kayaking aside, this is one of the most wonderful hidden gems to explore in the north of Singapore. The serene park is popular for jogging and fishing, with a waterplay area to help entertain the kids. Those keen to take to the peaceful waters can rent equipment from Passion WaVe and paddle past Heritage Bridge, a fishing deck, and keep an eye out for the white-bellied sea eagle, which can often be spotted soaring overhead.
4. Paddle through mangroves at Pulau Ubin
Luckily, no passports are needed when you travel to this offshore island. For a proper escape from city life, sign up for the four-hour Mangrove Kayaking Adventure Program with Asian Detours. The day starts off with a ferry ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal and after arriving on the charmingly rustic Pulau Ubin, adventure leaders will provide equipment and gear. Before heading into the mangroves, you will pass through the open seas – often a bit choppier water – that lead to the serenity found within tunnels created by the mangrove trees. A wide range of wildlife can be spotted, including anything from monitor lizards, mudskippers, kingfishers and hornbills to rarer sightings such as smooth-coated otters.
5. Go fishing around Sentosa
While there are quite a few options for kayaking on this island resort off Singapore’s southern coast, something different can be found with the fishing tour offered by Fever. They provide Hobie Pedal Fishing Kayaks in order to free up your hands to deal with the bait and your rod. The Sandy Shores tour is suitable for both beginner and intermediate fishermen. Along the 4km to 8km journey – depending on your physical fitness level – a range of fish, including grouper and snapper, can be caught. It’s important to note that in order to ensure the sustainability of the reef, catch and release is supported, which means you will not be bringing home fish for dinner.