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.
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.
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.
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.