x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dubai dragons full of quiet confidence ahead of regatta

The country's first dragon boat team, the Dubai Flying Dragons, are leaving for Malaysia.

The Dubai Flying Dragons mixed team in action.
The Dubai Flying Dragons mixed team in action.

DUBAI // The country's first dragon boat team, the Dubai Flying Dragons, will leave for Malaysia today to compete in the sixth Club Crew World Championships. More than 30 expatriate men and women aged between 24 and 40 years, who make up the six teams competing in the women's and mixed championships, will represent the UAE in the four-day regatta being held in Penang this weekend.

The Flying Dragons, who for more than two years have been answering 5am wake-up calls and enduring gruelling training sessions, recently won a gold medal at a European competition. And despite competing against countries such as Canada and Singapore, where dragon boat racing is a well-known and well-loved sport, the team, under their Canadian coach Jason McKenzie, are quietly confident of their chances on the world stage.

Angelina Wong, 28, a member of the UAE women's team, said: "I'm definitely excited. It's hard to say we will do well because we are up against teams who are paid to do this full-time, but our coach has predicted that we stand a good chance of finishing in the top 10 and that would be huge for us." The championship regatta has been held every two years since 1996. More than 22 countries are expected to participate in this year's event, which is being held in Asia for the first time.

The UAE crew includes mountain climbers, gym instructors, PE teachers, public relations executives and chief executives. They typically train three times a week at the Mina Seyahi Hotel in Dubai, although in the run-up to the championships training was increased to twice daily. The workouts, Ms Wong said, focused on endurance, strength, speed and, most importantly, technique. And while Ms Wong, a public relations executive, said it was not always easy to drag herself out of bed at 5am, the sense of camaraderie between the team mates had kept her going.

"We have all definitely bonded," she said. "We've all found ourselves giving each other little wake-up calls if one of us is late for training. And once you're out there in the fresh air, on the water, then you're so glad they did." Ms Wong hopes the team's success, as well as the Dragon Boat Festival planned for Abu Dhabi between Nov 13 and 15, will elevate the sport's profile in the UAE and encourage others to take up the sport.

"We are trying to develop and expose the sport in this part of the world so that more people who currently are not aware of it will take part in the future," she said. @Email:loatway@thenational.ae