Three dragons ready to race

Three dragons ready to race

A family of dragon boat racers - aged 21, 43 and 74 - explain their passion for the sport to Mabel Sieh

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Dragon boat racers (from left) Cheng Yat-ho, 21; Cheng Fok, 74; and Cheng Chi-keung, 43, will row tomorrow in Aberdeen.
Dragon boat racers (from left) Cheng Yat-ho, 21; Cheng Fok, 74; and Cheng Chi-keung, 43, will row tomorrow in Aberdeen.
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

Cheng Yat-ho did not like talking to people much when he was a teenager. He admits he was rebellious.

"I didn't want to listen to anybody; I didn't care much about their opinions," says the young man, now 21, who works as a technician at HK Electric.

However, through dragon boat training, Yat-ho has been transformed into someone who is open and responsible, thanks to his uncle Cheng Chi-keung, an experienced dragon boating coach who introduced him to the sport.

"When he was 10, we took him to our training and competitions to see if he was interested. He liked it and began to practise with us. In 2006, he took part in his first race," says Cheng, 43.

Tomorrow Yat-ho, his uncle and his 74-year-old grandfather, Cheng Fok, will join the South Eagles - a team the uncle founded 10 years ago - in competing in the Aberdeen Dragon Boat Races as part of this year's festival.

Cheng has taken part in dragon boat races since he was 16. Growing up in Aberdeen in a fisherman's family, he says the event was popular among fishermen then. "All the fishermen took part in dragon boat competitions. We did it because we loved it."

The Eagles have grown from a membership of 10 fishermen living in Aberdeen to more than 70 members from all walks of life and all districts.

"Aberdeen has had 40 years of dragon boat competitions. We have the most traditional 'Big Dragon' competitions in Hong Kong," said Cheng. Dragon boats come in three sizes. The 27-metre-long "Big Dragon" can hold up to 50 athletes.

"We welcome everyone to join if you are passionate about it. The training is vigorous and three times a week. We train throughout the year, except in winter. It requires commitment," he says.

In recent years, Cheng has tried to promote dragon boating to secondary schools by offering lessons to students. He believes the sport can help to improve physical strength and build character in the younger generation today.

"Teamwork is the most important element in a dragon boat race. You need to listen to the leader and keep pace throughout. You need to be aware and play your role in the team," Cheng says.

Yat-ho says he has learned to be responsive and co-operative: "It's something I can apply in my work environment. When there's a problem at work, now I discuss it with people and seek their views."

Cheng says the sport also teaches an important life lesson: how to accept failure. "You can't win every race. When you fail, you learn from it and you move on. The tradition of dragon boat competitions isn't about winning," Cheng says.

And the training certainly makes you fit. Yat-ho's grandfather is the oldest racer in the South Eagles team. He has been competing in dragon boat races since he was 15. "It makes me sharp and healthy; I love it still," he says cheerfully. He is happy to see how the sport has benefited his grandson.

"He's learned to care about others. He takes good care of his grandmother now," he says.

Cheng hopes to see more teenagers take up the sport.

"Many youngsters today spend time on computer games. They have no hobbies or passion to do anything. Dragon boat training is a healthy hobby which helps them to develop a collaborative team spirit and a positive attitude towards life. These are good qualities necessary for our young generation today," Cheng says.

As for Yat-ho, he hopes to become a coach like his uncle one day. "I know I can do it," he says.

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