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The Silly Season

Competing against the world’s best

29 Oct 2019

Competing against the world’s best Image

By Spencer Fowler Steen

Dragon boat racing isn’t a sport many people have heard of. But here in Docklands, it’s the sport of choice for many masters athletes.

Dragon boat racing is a team sport where up to 20 people paddle together in a long boat often outfitted with a dragon’s head on the front and tail on the back.

It’s a noisy, high-octane affair where people race over distances of 200, 500 and 2000 metres to the beat of a drum.

Jeff Saunders, a Docklands dragon boat racer, will be 60 soon; a young buck among the 58 racers at Dragon Masters boat club where the average age is 63.

While the Docklands club is specifically for people aged 40 and above, Mr Saunders said his fellow racers were in better nick than your average 60- or 70-year-old.

“It can be seen as an old person’s sport, but in Asia in places like the Philippines, it’s a sport for buff young blokes where you see Bruce Lee replicas getting out of boats there,” he said.

“At our club, there are a few old guys with busted knees and stuff from footy, so it’s a good sport for them. “

“And the social team side of it also tends to be attractive for older people.”

At the last Australian Championships held on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra this year, the Dragon Masters won five gold medals and one silver in the 60-plus category.

This earned them an invitation to compete at the World Club Crew Championships to be held in France in August 2020.

Mr Saunders said their already rigorous training would step up throughout next winter leading up to the championships.

“It really is a team sport, if everyone isn’t working together, it screws everyone up,” he said. “It’s sprint racing too so it’s really exciting - 200 metre races are over in under a minute.”

Dragon boating dates back 2300 years ago to the ancient royal kingdom of Chu in China.

Mr Saunders also said dragon boat racing was closely associated with survivors of breast cancer, with “Dragons Abreast” operating out of the same dock in Docklands.

In 1966, Dr Don McKenzie, a professor in sports medicine and exercise physiology, taught and trained 23 breast cancer survivors dragon boat paddling.

He did this to challenge the prevailing medical thinking that breast cancer survivors should avoid strenuous upper body exercise out of fear of developing a debilitating side effect of treatment, lymphoedema.

After three months of training on the water, none of the volunteers had lymphoedema, and they loved the sport so much, they started their own dragon boat club to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Mr Saunders said Docklands' dragon boating dock was the best in the country because it stored nine boats and had an electric hoist that could stack boats in groups of three.

“It’s a really friendly, welcoming sport and it’s inexpensive,” he said.

“It’s great exercise in a healthy environment.”

People of all ages can try their hand at dragon boating for free on Saturday, November 30 from 8.30am to 10.30am at the Community Boat Hub in Docklands.

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