Oar-inspiring paddler inspires fellow dragon boaters amid rough waters

Oar-inspiring paddler inspires fellow dragon boaters amid rough waters

By Brendan Rees

For Zijing Chu of Docklands, dragon boating is more than just a little-known recreational sport – it builds a sense of community and forges new friendships.

“It’s very fun and competitive but I think the community and the people really matter for me,” Mr Chu, president and co-founder of the Melbourne University Dragon Boat Club (MUDBC), said.

Since taking up the sport about six years ago while he was studying at the University of Melbourne Mr Chu, 25, has gone on to represent Australia four times after being selected in the Australian Dragon Boating Team, the Auroras. He has also competed in the world championships in France (2017) and in Thailand (2019).  

Dragon boat racing has ancient Chinese origins and has evolved into an international sport across the world. A graduate architect by day, Mr Chu’s passion for the sport has never faded and he loves being a part of a team environment and coaching newcomers at MUDBC while balancing his duties as a member of the board of directors for the Australian Dragon Boat Federation.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Mr Chu came to Australia in 2015 and has called Docklands home for the past two years, which he proudly described as “a very nice neighbourhood” with “beautiful views” while also being close to MUDBC and the city.

While Melbourne’s rolling lockdowns have halted any plans for dragon boating to take place, Mr Chu said the MUDBC’s 44 members had stayed connected over Zoom.

Online activities have included games and social catch-ups – which he acknowledged “may not be dragon boat-related … but at the end of the day it’s really about the people” and looking after one another.

“We actually have a population of international students in the club and so given the whole situation, you’re kind of stuck in this limbo.”

While Mr Chu hoped to return to the water soon, he will use an upcoming online TEDx event (a platform to share ideas around the world) through the University of Melbourne to inspire others to consider dragon boating once restrictions eased.

The event’s theme is “detours”, which Mr Chu said was “very aptly named” given the challenges of COVID-19 with his speech to include embracing changes and “keeping an open mind to things”.

He said while MUDBC was a great opportunity to keep fit, the club was also about bringing people together no matter what background with membership open to anyone of any age.

“I want to give back because I have learnt a lot from the sport,” he said. “I think dragon boating is a sport that’s very under-exposed, we don’t have a lot of youths that are in the sport.”

“It’s very popular in Hong Kong so I had always heard about it. When I studied at uni I wanted to pick up a sport so I thought why not try a sport I grew up with.”

The event will “definitely be going ahead” though it’s unknown if it will be via Zoom or as a pre-recorded video at this stage. Meanwhile, Mr Chu said the club, which is based at the Docklands Community Hub, is looking for a new home.

He said the club was currently sharing a third of the hub’s space with seven other dragon clubs “so you can imagine it being very cramped and tight”.

“We are trying to find a place in Docklands to call our permanent home – hopefully.” •

For membership inquiries visit: revolutionise.com.au/mudbc/home/

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