Category Archives: Paddling

Kind of a big deal

the 50-person 'long dragonboat'

Graham already mentioned that Dragon boat is kind of a big deal in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the home of modern dragonboat racing as a sport, and was the site of the first several World Championships. The people seem to really identify with the sport, and there are a lot of ties to the local traditional culture. Going there to race might be kind of like some Hong Kong hockey players coming to Canada to play in the NHL… a much bigger deal than they are used to.  Here are some highlights.

A display about the carnival at the airport
Mascots running around at the regatta... 'drummy' and 'draggy'. (ok, not really their names)
I took this picture of one of the local teams with their rec division trophy. They were so pumped!
There were several displays like this, a whole dragonboat set up in a little pond. These are the traditional teak boats, but we used more modren composite ones.
There were signs like this all over town, and also on bus shelters and giant ones on the sides of busses.

Racing in Hong Kong

After about 22 hours of travel we’ve arrived back home safely.  I’ve picked up some kind of tropical cold bug and Catherine has some infected blisters on her feet, but other than that we’re healthy.  We did get to do some sightseeing and eating of course in addition to racing so we’ll have a few more posts in the next little while on that, but for now here is the racing update.

The event itself was massive.  We knew that dragon boat is taken very seriously in Hong Kong and that was one of the reasons we really wanted to race there.  But we had no idea how big the event would be.  The organizers (Hong Kong Tourist Board and Hong Kong Dragon Boat Association) pulled out all the stops for this one.  We knew it was going to be big when they were handing out glossy brochures touting the event to passengers arriving at the airport.  There was signage all over town including massive billboard and double decker bus ads.  A large portion of the popular with tourists and locals alike Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade was set aside for the event essentially assuring huge crowds for the entire weekend.

The water in the foreground would become part of the racecourse. A number of barges were lined along the far side of the course to create calmer water. Even with the barges there were much bigger waves than we are used to paddling dragon boat in.

Due to Typhoon Chanthu we were only able to get one hour of practice on the course before the races.  The steerspeople needed the biggest adjustment to the wavy conditions; for us paddlers our jobs were pretty standard although with a real focus on keeping proper technique with all our weight on our paddles to reduce the boat rocking back and forth.  Due to the conditions the organizers stipulated that boats would have a maximum of 18 paddlers (instead of the regular 20) to lighten the load to reduce the chance of boats swamping.  Even with 18 paddlers we have some of the heaviest crews so we needed to be conscious of the conditions as all times.  Catherine created a couple of giant bailers out of 6 litre water jugs and the teams came up with bailing strategies for during the race (which we hoped never to have to use).

The men were the first to try their luck on the wavy course and played with fire by using 20 paddlers when the organizers temporarily changed the rules to allow 20 paddlers.  It turned out to be a mistake as we hit some big waves a little over half way down the course and couldn’t bail in time before we filled with water and capsized.  Luckily there were no injuries more than some bruised egos.  We figured our weekend was done and started focusing on the mixed races.  Luckily our team management convinced the officials that the waves that did us in must have been created by the safety boats and we were given a second chance to qualify for the next round.  We had a decent second attempt and completed the course in 12th place which was enough to put us in the top division.  On Sunday we came second in our semi-final to advance to the grand final (top 8 out of 70 crews).  We had a great race in the final and moved up to 5th place in a tight battle for 3rd and 4th.  Considering we only lost to pseduo national crews from Thailand and Taipei as well as two top club teams from China we were quite happy with the performance.

The women’s crew has been having a great season and showed their strength again at this regatta.  They spent the weekend battling against a Chinese crew that formed the core of last year’s world champions.  In the final the ladies really stepped up and closed the gap significantly falling less than a second short of completing the big upset.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the race as the men were preparing for our final, but by all accounts it was a very exciting race.

Our club’s two mixed crews proved to be the class of the field in that division and finished the final first and second.  While in North America the mixed races are the most important, the rest of the world tends to favour the men’s and women’s divisions.  While it would have been nice to meet world-level competition in this division as well it was still good to get some more international experience especially for the newer members of the crew.

Our heavy medals. The team also won four massive trophies that probably cost more to take back home on the plane than they did to buy in the first place.

Despite our lack of on-water training we both felt we were able to make good contributions during the races.  Both of us had pretty sore lower backs, but that is to be expected given the strain and the difficulty in simulating the dragon boat muscle movements without being in the boat.

After the races were over the organizers hosted all the international teams at a huge banquet at a convention centre.  There were speeches, team skits, musical performances and the highlight of the night a delicious 12 course traditional Chinese dinner.  The amount of money put out to stage this event must have been staggering – we were taken care of continuously and treated much better than we deserve!  It was a real treat to be able to focus strictly on racing and not all the logistics in a foreign place.

Catherine at the banquet with a couple of the awesome volunteers who took such good care of us all week.

We don’t have any race site pictures since we were pretty busy racing and the paddlers rest area was a long walk from the race site but this video gives a pretty good feeling for the scope of the event.

HK update

We arrived in Hong Kong with no delays or problems. The city (cities?) are vibrant and busy, with lots of traffic and people, but not unmanageably so. I was worried I would be overwhelmed by the crowds and business, but it is not so different than a busy day on the Vancouver skytrain. The food is AWESOME! So far we have had super cheap and ripe mangosteen and tangerines, bubble tea, egg tarts, mapo tofu, a great vegetarian lunch at the Buddhist monastery, and some nice cantonese food. We are leaving the chicken feet, durian, and snake for later. 😛 It is easy to get nice quality food for very cheap, so we are mostly eating out instead of cooking for ourselves.

We are in the first half of the monsoon season, and boy can we tel. We had a level 3 typhoon warning yesterday, and a big thunderstorm today. Our practice days on the water have been delayed, and we are all really hoping that our races will not be canceled. We raced in Montreal on during the slowed-down hurricane Katrina, but the Olympic basin is a lot more protected than the open Victoria Harbour is here, so they may cancel things if it looks unsafe. We have our fingers crossed. As Graham pointed out, “rock you like a typhoon” does not have the same ring to it.

We are safe and happy and enjoying the trip, with some added adventure from the weather.

Long Flight

We are on our way from Gävle to Hong Kong, with a little stop in Doha. About 22 hours and 8 hours time difference, but naturally we will arrive fit and fresh.
Thanks Hal and Joanne!

We may be able to do some posting while we are there, but our friend/teammate Erin is also writing a blog about the trip, so you can check that out too.

Paddling in Mackmyra

Catherine, Graham, our canoe-host Tage, and his dog Cesar. I am clearly distracted from photo taking by trying to pet Cesar. He was an awesome dog!

We were super fortunate this week; our friend Lars-Torsten has generously arranged for us to borrow the ‘Kanadensare’ (Canadian-style) canoe belonging to his friends Eva nd Tage in Mackmyra. Mackmyra is home to a Bruk (iron works estate) and more popularly, the most northern whiskey distillery in the world.  Through all of this winds the Gavleån (Gävle river), the same one we have been paddling on, albeit on a more downstream section and in a smaller, slower canoe.

Our vintage canoe... a surprisingly nimble 30-year-old fibreglass model. It felt great to be up on top of the water after our low-profile yellow trainer.
Big stretch with the Outrigger blade, ready to rock the kanotleden!

Graham steered and outshone his white shirt.

People told us it would take about 2 hours to get to the dam at Forsbacka bruk from Mackmyra bruk, and then 2 hours back, so we packed food and water accordingly. It was a nice wide river, under the freeway once and powerlines once, with a summer house and beaver lodge along the shore. Not much currents and very few snags, so it was smooth going. I thought we would probably outperform the time estimates, but we were surprised to get to Forsbacka bruk in under 45 min.

This snail may have spent his whole life in this canoe when it was upside down on the grass. His world really expanded today, although I don't think he got much of a view of the river from his perch on my feet.
Some of the old machinery at the Forsbacka bruk, the next iron works up the river.

The bruk was a nice place to get out and stretch, and it would be great paddling to continue up past the dam into Storsjön… our friend Eva lives on the ‘big lake’, so one day we’d like to paddle up past this last dam and visit thre before making the return trip. It would make something to look forward to during all those portages! Graham pointed out that we have paddled almost the whole kanotled (canoe trail) now, albeit on different days.

A big toad hiding in the rocks by the river bank. The point and shoot doesn't have a lot of zoom, so I was right up in his grill here and he didn't seem to care.

One of the best things about getting out to stretch in Forsbacka was the ripe smultron! (wild strawberries) I had heard my uncles talk about these but never discovered a patch myself until coming to Sweden. Most places just have flowers, but here there were lots of ripe ones, so we spent about 30 minutes squatting down combing the ground with our hands to find the berries. We got quite a few, although they are so small that it doesn’t add up to a lot. There were still lots there… I will bring a tupperware next time I go to the forest or along the river. I wonder if they freeze well?

Most smultron have little white flowers still, but this is the only one I saw in Forsbacka.
Small but mighty!
Smultron on a straw. This might start to look like I am a kabob-afile, but this is actually a traditional hiking in the forest gift. I wonder if berries lined up on a straw is how strawberries got their name? or do they grow in straw?

We brought the canoe back to the house about 2 hours 15 minutes after setting out, and I think they were a little surprised to see us so soon, unsure that we had gone the whole way. We sat on the veranda with Eva and Tage (and Cesar!) and ate Swedish strawberries and lemonwater and talked about the difference between Canada and Sweden. What a great afternoon!

The end of the road... the old mill dam at Mackmyra bruk that ran the machinery back in the day.

We have been met with such kindness by the Swedes we have met, from being included in local celebrations (like Valborg and Midsommar), as well as offers to borrow cars and canoes and lots of advice and tips on how to enjoy Sweden like locals. Hasse talks about Swedish ‘thankfulness debt’, where one feels they must express the gratitude they feel in an immediate way to acknowledge the giver.  It  is hard to know how to repay the ‘thankfulness debts’ we have incurred… We brought Tage and Eva some strawberries and homemade brownies, but this did not seem to balance the value we got from the canoe. We also have quite a thankfulness debt to Lars-Torsten also, who has been so great in lending us his canoe and introducing us to Tage and Eva. I think we may try to find something cool in Hong Kong to bring back.

Dragonboat documentary

Our coach Kamini sent us this link showing video of our team. Last year there was a documentary crew following us around at some of the regattas and at practice. As photographer-sister Bridget can attest, I sometimes find picture posing annoying, but I am glad to have documentation of things that happened. This documentary seems to have turned out nicely, you can see this clip and also the “teaser trailer” as a related video on youtube

Check out 0.58.  Red bandana of fury!  Oh- and that fast guy she is talking about?  Dungeon Master Graham!

Training Update

It’s been a couple weeks now since we decided we’re going to race in Hong Kong.  I’ve changed up my training to hopefully get in the best racing shape.

Our friend Lars-Torsten has been kind enough to let us use his double kayak whenever we want so we can get some on water time.  We’ve been out on the river a number of times now using our outrigger paddles.  We sit really low in the boat so the paddles feel really long and we splash each other more than we’d like.

Our sturdy training craft. Notice the west coast winter training clothing. It is actually pretty warm right now but the mosquitoes are crazy so you really need to cover up. Also since it will probably be over 30 degrees with high humidity in Hong Kong it doesn't hurt to practice feeling too hot.

Paddling together has also reminded us that while we are such compatible partners in so many aspects of our lives, paddling isn’t necessarily one of them.  The first day was a little contentious, but we’ve worked out the kinks and are flying pretty good now (well as much as possible in a 25 year old heavy monster using the wrong paddles).  On Saturday we decided to see how far we could go on the river.  After checking the satellite map we knew that we’d have some portages around dams, but we have another map saying that the river is part of a long ‘canoe trail’ so there should be ways around.  Well the day turned into a bit of a ‘canoe hike’ on the ‘canoe trail’ as the paths around the dams haven’t been maintained in a while.

At the first dam we first had to scope out the trail while being attacked by biting red ants!  Once we found the trail we had to portage over slippery rocks and then up a really steep hill while carrying the aforementioned heavy beast.  At the next dam we couldn’t find a good place to take out so we went back downstream and found what looked like a public trail.  We then had to hike down some dirt roads.  We almost made it to the next dam before deciding to head back since we were getting a little cramped.  On the way back down river we found that the ‘public’ trail wasn’t really public and there was a family fishing there with their large barking dog.  It turned out the dog was really friendly as were the family so no problems.  And at the second dam we had the route scoped out and only got a few ant bites.  If we feel really adventurous we may try to make it all the way to Sandviken (about 25km up river plus 5 dam portages) and then spend the night before coming back the next day.

In the gym, I was mostly working on building up a big aerobic base for next year along with raw strength in the weight room.  Both have been going pretty well, but not necessarily the most useful for sprint races in a month.  I’ve changed to mostly circuit training weights (light weight, lots of repetitions, little rest) and have done a number of anaerobic power and lactate threshold (think painful if you aren’t familiar with the terms) workouts on the rowing machine.  I think the rowing machine borders on cruel and unusual punishment.  It’s already hard enough and then it immediately updates you about how slow you are going after one poor pull.  I think some of the other gym patrons have been concerned for my health as I probably appear to be about to keel over and die.  They already think I’m the weird foreign guy that always wants to use the chinup bar for — chinups (long story, maybe another post), so this just adds to my mystique I’m sure.

Another day I decided I should do some running hill sprints at our local ‘mountain’.  I managed to sprint from bottom to top seven times before my legs became too jelly to walk.  That may sound impressive, but our mountain is so small I can get from top to bottom in just under a minute.  But it was a great pain tolerance workout that I’ll probably repeat again soon (it’s been a while so the memory of the agony has worn off).

We’ve only got two and half weeks until we leave, so we’ll be looking to maximize this time with more hard workouts.  Should be ‘fun’.

Racing in Hong Kong

Dragon Boats in Hong Kong Harbour
Dragon Boats in Hong Kong Harbour

Our dragon boat team from Vancouver has been invited to race at an international regatta in Hong Kong and we have been fortunate enough to be invited to race with them even though we haven’t been on the water at all this year.  The organizers are taking care of most of the ground costs so we really only have to worry about flights (who would have thought it’s cheaper to fly from Stockholm than Vancouver?).  How could we say no?

Racing in Asia, especially in Hong Kong, where the sport originated and has strong cultural roots will be amazing.  We’ll be racing right in the craziness of Hong Kong harbour which will add something to the experience I’m sure.  We both have been staying fit, but we’re going to have to employ a non-standard training regime to get on-water ready.  I’m sure will have some posts over the next month on our training sessions.

So much for reducing our carbon footprint – at least we take an electric train to/from the airport!

Racing Results

We will try to update here with results of the races, but we may not have connectivity or time due to the long days.  After racing all day we’ll probably just be looking for food and rest and may not be keen to spend time on the computer, but we’ll try.

Racing starts Wed the 26th.  Hopefully the event organizers will post the results timely, but there are no guarantees.  Try the following sites:

Coach Kamini is also going to try and keep a blog updated at: