Report from Tomorrow - Vol 15

S$1.66 (S$1 = 0.60USD)

Dragon Boat Racing

The only excuse I've found here for exercise is dragon boat racing. I saw an article in a local expat paper recruiting people for the Canadian team - so I worked with them once a week from mid-March until the end of May when there was an International Dragon Boat competition. Obviously there cannot be really stringent requirements about who can be on teams if I can be on the Canadian team, although I can claim to be an honorary Canadian since Ann Arbor is only an hour from Canada.

a Dragon Boat (see dragonboat.jpg) is a long canoe seating 22 people - 16-20 rowers, a drummer who makes noise and tries to coordinate the start of the race, and a "sweep" who steers the boat with a long oar in the stern.

I thought my experience with canoeing at home would be useful, but actually it was not - perhaps even a hindrance. The stroke is completely different. Rather than using a long slow smooth stroke as in canoeing, a dragon boat stroke is very short and fast (we do 70+ strokes a minute). Top international teams will do 90 strokes a minute.

The goal is to have everyone stroking in complete coordination. We try to keep 70 strokes/minute going in a "rest" mode (80% of full strength) and then once or twice during a race put 100% into each stroke (at the same pace) at the same pace for 30-45 seconds). It is a killer pace. Fortunately the race only lasts about 3-4 minutes.

Two competitions are held each year - in November on the Kallang River and on the East Coast in the open ocean (near shore) in May. The Kallang race is short (350m) and the water is smooth. The May race is 750m and the ocean makes it pretty rough.

The Canadians had enough people for two teams. The boats are borrowed from the Australian team and there is quite a competition between the two groups. The boat is about 36 feet long and weighs 1100 pounds. It takes a full twenty people to pick it up and carry it into the water. Quite amazingly when we get it together, we can really make the boat really move (at least it seems like it to me).

In the ocean competition it is not be unusual for boats to collide or even capsize. The local Singapore rescue unit loves it cause they get to practice rescues. I was told it was better to not capsize, cause you don't want these guys trying to fish you out of the water.

Dragon Boat Racing, The Rest of the Story

At the end of May we had our race which included quite a few different categories - from national teams (8+ countries) to colleges and clubs (the category we competed in).

The international teams are pretty impressive. The best are from Mynamar (previously known as Burma) where the entire team consists of active army men and women. The men look like they all do 1000 pushups for breakfast and each weighs about 98 pounds (an exaggeration, I bet some of them weigh at least 145). These guys even walk in cadence and, of course, all are in their prime. Only the Thai's (all Navy) even gave them a race, but not enough. Mynamar blew away the competition in every race. For example, their time for 750m was about 2 minutes and 20 seconds, compared to our Canadian best of 3:30.

Mary and Gretchen were there the entire time. Gretchen, standing taller than most every Asian male, drew a lot of attention - teams of attention. Eventually, at different times, she became the focus of the Philippine, Malaysia, and Mynamar teams. The Filipinos were by far the most active. One young man asked her, "What did it sound like when you came down from heaven?" (she ignored him). She had her picture taken with lots and lots of guys, fortunately, all of whom are now long gone.

The Canadian team members were given uniforms (courtesy of several sponsors) consisting of a pair of good sports shorts and a pretty slick tee-shirt (see picture reference below). If nothing else, we were promised to have the coolest outfits there (true enough).

The first day of the races (Saturday), the ocean looked calm with hardly any wave action. We'd practiced going into rougher water and had seen waves break over the bow in practice, so I thought things looked pretty good. Clearly a rookie...

Don't miss the exciting conclusion where you'll read phrases like "oops" and "knackered" and "tar balls" !

Pictures are available at: dragonboatpics.html