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Monday, 24 December 2012

The KLBar-barians at the Pesta Penang Dragon Boat Race 2012

8 - 9 December 2012 was the Pesta Penang Dragon Boat Race 2012. It was the first time
I had competed at this annual race, which is normally held in the month of December. It's usually organized at a much smaller scale compared with the grand mid-year Penang International Dragon Boat Festival (PIDBF) which is also held at the Teluk Bahang Dam.

It has only been a year since the Barbarians were set up but the team has improved by leaps and bounds. In particular, since the middle of this year, where the team competed at the PIDBF, the team has continued to get even stronger. The last 6 months have seen a mix of experienced members as well as newcomers coming together to race in Penang.Training during this half of the year has involved land drills on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Saturday lake training. In the month leading up to the Pesta Penang, lake trainings were doubled to Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Before we knew it, the weekend of Pesta Penang was here and the team excitedly made their way up to Penang. We would be staying at the Naza Talyya hotel in Penang again. It's located at the edge of Tanjung Bungah beach so still a way to travel to the dam but it's decent and affordable.

With the team down on Friday 7 December 2012, we made use of the training session at the dam to get accustomed to the boat and the water at the dam. The water and the boats in Penang tend to always result in slower times, with us paddlers having to get used to pulling heavier water.

We had some light training out on the dam on that Friday evening. We immediately felt the difference with Penang's heavier boats (they are not as streamlined and light as the Champion boats we are used to in Putrajaya) as well as the heavier water. With that, we had dinner at the food court just opposite Naza Talyya while a few of us attended the team manager's meeting just before dinner.

Pesta Penang attracted a larger than usual number of Singapore teams. More than half of the international teams taking part were from Singapore, drawn from the university teams like NUS, NTU and SMU, as well as the club teams.

On Saturday morning, we were up early by 7am to have breakfast. Some of us ate light while some fuelled up on the nasi lemak and fried eggs. Not quite the healthiest breakfast option.

Saturday would see us taking part in two different events. The first would be a unique race being a relay event. There would be two small boats of 12-crews racing over a 250m distance, both boats using a floating start. The first boat would race down and close to the end, the drummer would have to look back and pull a flag floating in the water. Once the flag is pulled out and thrown in the air, the second boat would then charge down in the next lane.

In our heat for the relay event, there were only us and Team Naga from Singapore. I was in the second boat waiting further out. When the race started, we could see both boats neck to neck charging down the lanes. As the boats got closer and closer, we waited for our steerer to shout the "Paddles up" command and we braced ourselves as our first boat got nearer. I could see that Team Naga was just slightly ahead.

While we were lining up in our position however, we were not sure if the officials had lined up our two boats in a straight line. Team Naga seemed to be further behind but the officials kept telling them to not paddle forward. If we tried to paddle back, the aligner told us to hold. But once the first set of boats neared us, we were all ready to go.

With the flag pulled out, there was a slight confusion on our first stroke as can be seen in the video below. But we settled into our race set and just kept pushing. We did a lot better than we thought we would before the race started, clocking 2:28, 2 seconds ahead of Team Naga.

While we cheered at the finishing line, there was still a bit of uncertainty on whether the second pair of boats were properly aligned. Team Naga's captain was very polite and gave us a heads up that they may complain to the organisers; not a reflection on us but just to query whether the aligners had lined up the boats correctly.

The relay event was a perfect kickstart for our competition. Everyone was in a pumped up mood and we couldn't wait for our next event that afternoon. It would be the heats for the Mixed-22 500m event.

Before our race started, we attended the Opening Ceremony and even managed a bit of Gangnam Style dancing as part of a group dance.

We suited up and then got ready for our Mixed-22 heats. There were three Singaporean teams in our heat along with Team Dolphin from UniKL. We knew the PLK Paddlers from Singapore would win the heat as they were very strong but we weren't sure how we were going to fare against the other teams. Only the top two from each heat would automatically qualify for the semi-finals. All other teams would have to go for the repechage to duke it out one more round to try to qualify for the semis.

We were in lane 1 and right next to us was the strong team from PLK Paddlers. Lane 3 had One Stroke from Singapore, Lane 4 with Team Naga (again) and finally Lane 5 had Team Dolphin. When all teams lined up at the marshalling area, it was quite clear that the Singaporeans all looked a lot more muscular than all of us. Gulp. Nonetheless, we had our own race strategy and were ready to prove ourselves.

At the starting pontoon, we were not quite aligned perfectly straight and there was some slight correction through some draw strokes. The few of us in front were still drawing water when the race officials shouted out the start commands. "Are you ready!"

We quickly went into our paddles up position and waited for "Attention", and gripped the paddles hard, and then "Go!". I pulled hard on our first long stroke and continued as part of our starting five long strokes. We then immediately shifted into our 20 fast strokes to get the boat up to speed. Out of the corner of my eye, I could already see PLK pulling away during the starting sprint sequence and they were pulling ahead.

We just kept our focus and continued to pull hard settling into our maintenance. It was a decent start for the boat and we settled into our rhythm. All throughout the maintenance and as the race progressed; I kept thinking whether we were in second place. I could not quite see One Stroke or Team Naga on our right but I kept my mind in just pulling long and hard and watching the sequence.

With a hard 20, we kept pushing the boat on, even as the boat threatened to drop in speed and get heavier. We lifted the boat and kept it surging. With the shout of "All out!" we then drew on whatever was left and went all out for the remaining 50m or so.

When we crossed the starting line, I could not even look to the right to check on the other boats. I was thinking we must have secured second place but I was too exhausted to look round. I just slumped forward even as cheers and whoops of joy echoed round our boat.

We did come in second! Which meant our automatic qualification to the semi finals. We clocked a time of 2:18, two seconds clear of Team Naga who were breathing down our necks.

The official results showed that PLK had comfortably won the heat in a time of 2:10 while we were second in 2:18. The other two teams were in 2:20 and 2:21, just behind us.

With a very satisfying first day of racing, the team took some deserved R&R and headed back to the hotel. There was time for some of us to chill by the beach next to the hotel before our dinner.

It was then time to get some fuel into our bodies and go out for more yummy Penang food. We drove out to a nearby food court called Goodall which had a full array of very delicious local food to sample.

With our bellies filled and still high on the thoughts of our racing on Saturday, we had the benefit of having Sunday morning off as we could skip the repechages. We only had to be back in right after lunch to start off our semi-final race for the Mixed-22.

However, as we waited in the marshalling area for our race which was scheduled to start at 1.10pm, tragedy struck. The race was initially delayed but eventually the rest of the day was cancelled. One of the race officials out on the starting pontoon had apparently disappeared. It was later told to us that it was believed that he had dived off the platform to swim and then suffered a cramp. It was very sad that such an incident had to occur.

With all the races cancelled, we then left the dam and looked for lunch in town. It was time for nasi kandar at Line Clear and then after walking a short while, the famous cendol on Penang Road.

The race organisers had continued with the closing dinner at Royal Thai and we attended the dinner along with some of the other teams. With dinner over, we walked to the bar next door for some drinks. On a Sunday night, it seemed like the place was very  dead.

On the spur of the moment, some of us then headed out for some late night karaoke at Red Box to continue singing the night away. We belted out favourites from Backstreet Boys, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi.

With a few hours of sleep under our belt the next morning, it was time to draw our Penang trip to a close. Looking back, the weekend had only two races for us but the weekend was filled with so many happy memories. So many shared experiences at the races and after the races. So many jokes and laughs to take away from the weekend.

Although many of us suffered from a bit of dragon boat withdrawal after a whole weekend with the team, we don't need to wait very long for the next trip and race. On the weekend of 29 and 30 December 2012, we will finish off 2012 with our last race of the year down in Malacca at the Ayer Keroh lake. Looking forward to it!

Prepared by Lee Shih.
Edited by Khaizan Sharizad and  Jeremiah R. Gurusamy

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