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Taking place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, dragon boat races have been popular for a number of years. Teams of paddlers race long narrow boats that are accompanied by a beating drum as they race toward the finish line. The history of dragon boat racing is a fascinating one that dates back a number of years, but the international races that we know and love today are a more recent tradition.
It all started in 1976 when a local Hong Kong fishermen took part in an international dragon boat race – of which there was only one foreign team from Japan. Now, there are over 4,000 paddlers from 14 countries and regions who compete for the 24 championships. The Culture Trip gives you an inside look into the world of dragon boat racing through the eyes of Mica – a paddler for the international team, Sea Cucumbers.
How long have you been dragon boat racing?
I’ve been paddling now for seven years.
What made you want to get involved in dragon boat racing and how did you get involved with the international team?
I’m a breast cancer survivor, and for a lot of people who have had breast cancer and have had a lymph node removed, they’re encouraged to use their arms – so, paddling! I joined the breast cancer team in Hong Kong at first, but unfortunately, I was the only non-Chinese person, so I couldn’t really understand the coach. I then bumped into somebody else, and they brought me along to another team, the Stormy Dragons, and I paddled with them for a lovely four to five years. It wasn’t [until] I moved to Discovery Bay that I found and joined this team, the Sea Cucumbers.
What do you like most about dragon boat racing?
The atmosphere. The atmosphere is just amazing. It’s full of team spirit; everyone gets on, and all the team chats away with each other because Hong Kong is such a transient place. People hop from team to team because they move. So everyone knows each other; it’s a small community, and we all go to the same events. It’s brilliant.
What’s been the hardest challenge to overcome?
Trying to make sure you get to all the trainings. Your social life and family life take a back seat for dragon boating.
How often do you have to train?
We train all year through, with every Saturday and Sunday on the water. Occasionally, we do a Friday evening training session too, and then we have land-based training. We have a couple of fitness instructors on the team, so they take it in turns to do daytime or nighttime sessions, and then people do their own thing on top of that.
Nighttime training as well! What does that involve?
Bootcamp. And she makes us do everything. Anything and everything, so you’re wobbling just trying to get back home.
What’s been your fondest memory after so many years of paddling?
The people I meet. This is like a second family, because you see them more than you do your own family!