Dragon boating may look like a very serious sport, but when you spend that much time with your teammates in a boat, you're bound to have fun. Here are some of the best stories from teams that took part in the Young Post 6th Inter-school Dragon Boat Championships last Sunday.
Bonding over baldness and diapers
Apart from difficult training sessions, sometimes teams also have to contend with Hong Kong's polluted waters. Anthony Brewer, a teacher and dragon boat coach at Victoria Shanghai Academy, says that his team practises in Aberdeen Harbour, and often runs into unsavoury objects.
"Practice areas can be fairly unclean at times, depending on tide or waves … the most interesting item we've seen floating around is a used diaper," Brewer says.
Regardless, he says practices offer good bonding experiences for students and teachers. The school used to have a mixed teacher-student team; Harry Mou Kat-yau, 18, used to be a member.
"A geography teacher in our school looks like a very serious guy, and in his class, he's very strict. But during the training, I sat in front of him, and one time there was a wave coming. He splashed me and wet me all over - so we had a water fight on the boat," Harry says.
"Even our principal was on the boat. That's not something every student can experience. He's bald, so … when you splash water on his head, the reflection on his head is funny."
The perfect boating song
All dragon boat teams will tell you their training is tough, but Heather Jablonowski, a teacher and dragon boat coach at Canadian International School, said she was a little bit too strict when she started a team for teachers a few years ago.
"It was very no-nonsense. You couldn't sing in the boat, you couldn't have fun in the boat. You can have fun outside the boat after practice, but when you're in the boat, you must be focused," Jablonowski says. "I may have scared some of the paddlers too much because I was a little militant in my teaching, because I came from a team that was very strict."
The teams who competed in the Young Post 6th Inter-school Dragon Boat Championship gained so much more than just medals and prizes
She has since become nicer, allowing the teachers to enjoy themselves. They sing Bonnie Tyler's 1983 hit Total Eclipse of the Heart whenever they turn the boat, because of the "turn around" refrain.
She started a team for students this year, and at the inter-school championship last Sunday, they won first place in the small boat mixed race silver cup final. Oddly, she says, the students don't sing, and are far more serious than the teachers…
Two thoughts that keep 'em going
It's a cliché to say that a sport is all about teamwork, but dragon boating takes that idea to the extreme. Every single paddler - and there can be up to 20 in one boat - have to perfectly synchronise all their movements - it doesn't matter how strong an individual is, if they're out of time, they're no use.
That makes it a difficult sport to pick up, says Li Siu-tsan, an 18-year-old at Delia Memorial School (Glee Path), who started paddling two years ago. His team won the Gold Cup Final for the mixed small boat race at championship last Sunday.
"When you're halfway through practice, you'll be exhausted and want to give up," Siu-tsan says. "Our coach always tells us that if you give up now, you'll give up on other things all your life. But as long as you can make it through this, you can make it through anything."
"Even when I want to stop, and think about putting down my oar, these words keep me going."
Because dragon boating requires perfect coordination, it's hard to get the boat going at full speed, but once that happens, Siu-tsan says it's something special.
"When the whole boat is moving in perfect harmony, the sense of speed and achievement is amazing. The first few strokes have to be exceptionally powerful, but then you feel the strokes go more and more smoothly through the water, and then the boat accelerates; even if you stop paddling, it'll keep going."