An expatriate in Hong Kong, Scott Thiel has a unique way to explore the city that he now calls home. After having left his footprints on many of the hiking trails throughout the territory, he is now taking his adventures out to the sea with his kayak.
The water sport gives him “a very interesting view of Hong Kong” by allowing him to sit back and appreciate the city’s beauty from a distance.
“You can go on an adventure on a kayak. You don’t have to be constrained by any paths. You can just paddle anywhere you like,” says Thiel, partner at DLA Piper who specialises in technology and cybersecurity.
“It’s been a good way of exploring and you get to know new places by accident. There are islands in Hong Kong that can’t be accessed through ferries. So, unless you have your own boat, you wouldn’t be able to go there.”
Not many people know that Hong Kong is actually an “island city”, with more than 250 islands scattered around the territory. Thiel says there may only be about 20 or so of them accessible with a regular ferry service.
But, luckily, with his interest in kayaking, he can explore the city’s nature in a deeper and wider context. He has discovered some interesting waterfalls and can find a way to get closer to them with his kayak.
A Nature Explorer
“I’ve been able to go to places where people normally wouldn’t get to go,” he says.
On the land, he loves finding remote villages and hiking the off-the-beaten-path tracks.
Thiel’s curiosity for the unknown had led him to leave his home country of Australia for more adventures. After finishing studying there, Thiel moved to Hong Kong to work in the legal industry. A free-spirited explorer, he has always been a nature lover, and Hong Kong’s easy access to nature surprised him.
“I love being in nature. One of the most amazing things about Hong Kong is that you can be in the middle of the big city, then quickly be in the middle of a reservoir or by the sea,” Thiel says.
The spectacular coastlines of some of the islands here have left him impressed. What’s even better is that they are not unreachable by kayak.
“I like Goldfish Island. It’s a very nice and scenic island,” Thiel says of one of his favorite spots in Hong Kong. “It has a stunning coastline with caves and rock arches. We can paddle through the rock arches.”
“Its location is spectacular. It’s only about five kilometers offshore. You find a day to get out there and explore around then come back. So it’s not a particularly remote island,” he adds.
The rock formations in the northeast area are also what draw Thiel to Hong Kong. Sai Kung, dubbed the backyard of Hong Kong, is famous for its hexagonal rock columns along with numerous wave-cut sea cliffs, caves, arches, notches and blowholes.
“I also quite like Shelter Island, to which I’ve been a couple of times.”
“These islands have got really nice rock formations,” Thiel says, adding that his next destination could be the Geopark in the northeast of Sai Kung for the “impressive rock formations and cliffs” there.
A Water Lover
Thiel’s love of the sea stems from his early days back in Australia. Even though he is relatively new to kayaking in Hong Kong, he has been paddling and surfing for a long time.
“I’ve done various water sports over a long period of time,” he says.
Before taking up kayaking in Hong Kong, Thiel was into dragon boating in Hong Kong.
“I used to do dragon boating with one club and we had a team in the office. We were quite successful as we ended up being a top team in the league,” he recalls.
But dragon boating is a sport that requires a lot of time commitment. There are races all year around and they take a long day. Thiel eventually met his partner during one of his hiking trips in Hong Kong and tied the knot. Recently the family welcomes a new member.
His choice for water sports also changed when he switched from an ambitious young lawyer to a family man.
“Now I’ve got a family and it would be difficult to commit to the sport. Kayaking is much more flexible. You can go out on your own or with your friends. You can paddle to some islands, anywhere you like. It’s a bit easier to organise and less of a time commitment when I’m balancing between work and family,” he explains.
He says kayaking is more informal and relaxed than dragon boating, which he says is built around competition and winning.
“Now I just paddle for fun and for catching up with friends. I’m not in any formal club for kayaking,” Thiel says.
Keep Mind Calm
And kayaking gives him peace of mind when he has to juggle between work and family. It is also an escape of the busy city life.
Currently, Thiel is doing a lot of work around legal technology - changing the way lawyers operate, creating new business solutions, coming up with a lot of innovative things that can be used in his own practice.
The ability to step outside of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong and have some time to think helps stimulate his creativity.
“I don’t even see kayaking as a kind of exercise. I think of it more as an opportunity to do something that gives me some space and time on my own. I sometimes paddle in the morning, when you wake up fresh. I think some of my more creative ideas tend to come when I’m in that environment,” Thiel says.
Living in the Sai Kung area overlooking the sea, Thiel likes to get up very early to catch the first ray of sunlight reflecting on the calm water, enjoying some peaceful moments all to himself before going to his office in the heart of Central.
“You can have better use of your day. It helps you think clearly and strategically,” he says.
All About Efficiency
As much as he loves being out to the sea, Thiel says he does not feel like he has to squeeze time out of his schedule to make it happen. Effective time management is all one needs.
“It is not a matter of squeezing time to do these activities. Rather, it’s about being effective. I’m a more effective lawyer and an effective boss and manager. You have to get that balance in so you take enough exercise and nature time,” he says.
In fact, when he is determined to keep his hobbies, he finds himself using the time more efficiently.
“There is a culture in the legal sector that you need to work overtime. The reality is that your productivity, effectiveness and innovation will drop and that affects the value you can bring. If I only get two hours at work, I know I will give my very best effort to get work done. This way I’m better off finding some time to spend it by nature and to do some exercise, and to be with families and friends,” Thiel explains his work style.
After all, time management is the key.
“It is essential to be a high performing professional because you have balance in your life. I think of it as an essential part of being a well-rounded person,” he adds.
Besides going on solo trips, Thiel also likes to get people out to the sea. A change in environment can let people learn about each other with a fresh perspective.
“I’ve done kayaking with a couple of colleagues so far and they seemed to enjoy it. It’s really good for team morale to go and do things together,” he says.
“We spend so much time together in the office. It’s good to just take people outside of the work environment to spend time not just talking about law and work but getting to know each other in a different context,” he adds.
Recently, he took a colleague who came from London out on a kayak to show him Hong Kong through his eyes. Together, they explored some waterfalls to see the interesting side of the city.
And from time to time he organises kayaking trips as well as hikes for his colleagues. A lot of activities can take place in a natural environment, he says.
Thiel believes these social events help with team bonding, as these activities can be an effective tool for creating a community with colleagues.
“One of the things I think is important for personal fulfillment is around this combination of meaning work and meaningful relationships,” Thiel says. “Having good relationships with people is very important.”