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Dramatic dragon boats will be slicing through the waters all over the world in the coming weeks and Bahrain is all set to join the annual global celebration once again with power and perfection of form.
Nine to 11 teams will be paddling with purpose at Water Garden City Beach on March 4 as they compete in the Chinese New Year Race from 8am to 4pm.
“What makes the event unique is that, for sure, dragon boat racers will be out and about racing all over the world at around the same time,” said Diane Prieur, chair of the Bahrain Rowing & Canoe Centre (BRC) Executive Committee.
The dragon boat has its roots in ancient Chinese folklore. One tale tells a story of a man, a councillor and a renowned poet in his time, exiled from his nation and seeing it fall into violence, threw himself into the river in deep despair. Beloved by the villagers, they rushed into the river on their boats with banging drums, to no avail.
Dragon boats have been making waves worldwide ever since and, in Bahrain since December 2016, not with the sadness of loss, but for the love of the sport and the comradeship born from it.
“We paddle as one,” was the motto shared by Prieur. “What I love about the sport is my love to be out in the water, the discipline and hard work involved … but the best thing for me is the teamwork.”
This sentiment was shared by the Mabuhay Paddlers team, who saw the sport as one where you have to ebb-and-flow off one another to be able achieve any sort of victory.
“The team is as strong as its weakest link,” Prieur emphasised. “You can have the strongest paddlers in the boat, but if they do not work in unison the boat will just not move.”
And, teamwork is even evident through the interaction of Bahrain’s dragon boat teams, all of whom adjust their training schedule as they share the two dragon boats stationed in Bahrain Bay, owned by the BRC.
This flexibility and sportsmanship to allow each team a chance to train with the boat would see some teams training as early as 4am or as late as 8pm.
“We train every week,” said Judee Linezo, who is one of the pioneering members of the Mabuhay Paddlers team. “Sunday is full paddle training in a pool and on Tuesday we have land trainings, reserving weekends for boat training. However, we will have a ‘hell week’ two weeks prior to the Chinese New Year event - a whole week of nothing but intense nonstop training, followed by a week of rest.”
Linezo described how joining the team and being surrounded by a diverse group of athletes has been a core motivation that pushes her through the intense training.
Dragon boating, in general, welcomes everyone to this teambuilding sport. It attracts people from all walks of life and nationalities, including Bahrainis, Americans, Filipinos, Brits and Brazilians.
The sport is also open to all ages, as well as people of all shapes and sizes, from those with pure muscles to those who are more on the cuddly side.
“Part of the beauty of the sport is that we want it to be open to all,” added Prieur. “We want everyone to feel welcomed.”
Recently 15 dragon boat teams entered a tug of war competition in Bahrain Bay. A rope linked two dragon boats as four contestants from each boat used every ounce of strength to pull the other boat across the line. “It was intense,” said Linezo. “It was a total test of strength and endurance.”
For more details, follow @bahrainrowing on Instagram.