Dragon Boating!! Never in my wildest dream did I imagine that I would take up this water sport!!
Neither did I expect that I would ever become hooked on it!
But true enough, through an unexpected twist of events, a sceptical me was coaxed into joining the AustCham (Australian) Dragon Boat Team in Singapore. So one Saturday afternoon there I was at Kallang beach to at least give this sport a try.
Well, that was how Dragon Boat came up in my life and I have to admit, it was one drastic change that I have never regretted taking up! This sport provides the participants with the opportunity to have outdoor fun on the water, to be part of a team as well as the opportunity of meeting new people from all walks of life.
Hold on a minute!! I am not going to paint you a rosy image of dragon boating. No way!
Here are the lowdowns you should expect when taking up dragon boating for the 1st time. Apart from the extreme heat of the sun, new comers have the additional luxury of enjoying muscle pains all over the body especially the arms, torso, back & butt areas.
For the first few weeks I took up this sport, my Sundays were normally spent lying motionlessly in bed like an eighty year old grandmother with rheumatism!
The history of Dragon boating can be traced to more than 2,000 years ago. There are two main legends popularly related to the custom of racing dragon boats. Firstly it was primarily held as a rite to awaken the hibernating Heavenly Dragon, Tianlong, which plays a most venerated role among the Chinese zodiac mythology and was traditionally believed to be the ruler of rivers and seas that dominates the clouds and rains.
Another main legend that connects this festival is a touching saga of a famous Chinese patriot poet named Qu Yuan. In the year 278 B.C., Qu Yuan committed a ritual suicide in the Miluo River as a form of protest against the corruption of the era.
The distraught villagers attempted to save Qu Yuan in their fishing boats. They beat drums and splashed water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body and later on scattered rice wrapped into three-cornered silk packages into the water in a desperate attempt to prevent him from hunger.
The rice dumplings also known as Zhongzi has been a traditional food ever since and later on turned into a custom, the Rice Dumpling Festival, another celebration held concurrently along with the Dragon Boat Festival.
What is a Dragon Boat?
It is a painted boat to which a decorative dragon's head and tail is attached. The normal crew number is 22, including 20 paddlers, 1 coxswain at the helm of boat and 1 drummer sitting at the front of boat.
The lead rowers, sitting directly in front most end of the boat, together with the drummer will set the pace for the team. All other rowers synchronise their strokes to the rowers in front of them (whom they can directly see) and the drum beat (which they can hear).
Dragon Boating has gained enormous popularity & recognition as a team building, recreational & competitive team based water sport. Many clubs, schools, government agencies and corporate organisations in Singapore have even formed their own dragon boat teams to participate competitively in major race events held in Singapore.
The Breast Cancer Foundation has even formed their own dragon boat team, The Pink Paddlers, and made their debut in the Singapore River Regatta in November 2003.
Kudos to these ladies!!
The AustCham team was formed in the late 1980s when John McGrath an Australian and avid dragon boater moved from Hong Kong to Singapore.
Shortly after other expatriate teams were formed and have become an important part of the Dragon Boat community in Singapore.
There are currently seven Dragon Boat teams within the expatriate community in Singapore. The dragon boat clubs are : AustCham, German Dragons, British, Canadian, Okinawa, Kowloon & the newly formed Irish Dragon Boat team.
These clubs are sponsored by pubs or clubs in Singapore. A flow of beer after each practice session aims to encourage team members to stay back at end of each session to socialise and bond with one another. If you think that dragon boaters are dull sport’s jocks you may be in for a big surprise!!
Team representatives from the clubs often get together to co ordinate social events, Fun Races & Pub Crawls to the team's sponsors pub houses to encourage members to meet and get to know members from other teams. Most of them are also ardent party people who organises frequent private parties throughout the year!!
But there is a serious side to dragon boating; it’s a great way to stay fit. You can join the serious competitive group and train 3 times a week or be a social paddler and train just on Saturdays.
The team is sponsored by Brewerkz, MAN Diesel, ANZ Bank and many other generous contributors. Team members pay a small fee at each practice session to cover the costs of refreshments, which include isotonic drinks and beer from Brewerkz.
Amazingly, many friends that I know all over the world are not even aware that dragon boating is a sea sport also practiced extensively outside of Asia! The fact is that over the past 35 years, dragon boating has spread beyond Asia to other parts of the world such as Europe, North America, Australia, Canada, Germany & even Africa, to become an international sport with a huge following.
Now, it is amongst the fastest growing watersport and has amazingly become the largest team sport, with over 60 million participants in over 50 countries.
Dragon Boat racing has become an influential and very popular social, corporate and charitable sport, during which friendship as well as strength and endurance are developed among the participants. Dragon Boat Racing might also be an official Olympic sport in the near future.
One festival that you should not miss in Singapore during late May or early June is the Singapore Dragon Boat Festival! In conjunction with the Dragon Boat Racing, a mega Food & Entertainment bonanza with over 300 stalls is usually held at the Marina Promenade around the same time.
The main highlight of this festival celebration is of course the Dragon Boat Race with over 1,000 participants. This 2-day long competitive event will feature teams from various corporate organisations, government agencies, schools & private clubs racing against each other in a spirit of fun & competition.