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Monday, 29 July 2013

A Back-to-Back Mid-Season for the KLBarBarians

On the brink of celebrating our 2nd birthday, the KLBarBarians spent 6 arduous months training leading up to these 2 mid-season back-to-back competitions.

A much smaller affair this year, the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival 2013 showcased 17 teams from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Australia. For the KLBarBarians, aside from the challenge of racing against international teams, races in Penang always bring along the additional motivation of good food.

Upon arrival at the Teluk Bahang Dam, it was clear that the dam had undergone a slight safety makeover. There were significantly higher police, fire brigade and ambulance presence along with steel fences which had been erected all around the dam.

Sporting a new steerer at the helm once again, the team suffered several hiccups at the start of the 200m races – strong winds posed difficulty in parking the boat. It also caused us to veer off course and collide with other teams, thankfully without affecting their chances of victory. As karma would have it, barely 20 seconds into our Open-22 crew race, team Pattani from Thailand crashed into the side of our boat, causing our first capsize in a race (first capsize ever in fact). Safety boats immediately came to our rescue and thanks to the quick action of the KL BarBarians men, not a single paddle, slipper or sunglasses was lost in the incident.

These ongoings did not faze the KLBarBarians women as they raced to a silver medal in the International Premier Women’s 200m 12-crew event, undermined only by the strong women of SAFSA (Singapore Armed Forces Sports Association).

Sunday was a gloomy and stormy day for the 500m races. Day 2 always poses a bigger task with teams having to overcome fatigue from Day 1 coupled with the test of endurance required for these long-distance races.

Even as the winds continued to howl, our enthusiasm was not dimmed. The KLBarBarians raced into the finals of all the events we signed up for; International Premier Open 22-Crew, International Premier Mixed 22-Crew and International Premier Womens 12-Crew – clinching silver in the latter 2 races!

Forced to field women paddlers in the International Premier Open event (which generally features an all-men crew) due to shortage of men, our Open crew did well to finish in the same bracket as everyone else.

The women’s race was epic. Dark clouds were looming as we parked the boat at the starting pontoon and torrents of rain came pouring down as the horn sounded the start of the race. Battling through choppy waters, hard droplets of rain clouding our vision and the wind billowing us away from the finish line, it is moments like this when one can truly comprehend the teamwork required to paddle a dragonboat together.

The Mixed-22 finals saw a 3-way race between MMU, Penang Forward and the KLBarBarians. Locking in a charge which we spent months practising saw us losing out on the gold medal by a mere 0.14 seconds!

All in all, we brought home 3 silver medals from the 6 events we entered and successfully established ourselves as formidable opponents. The team left the very wet race site and the storm continued to rage on on Sunday night but this did not stop the KLBarBarians from celebrating our biggest win ever.

Still on dragonboat high, the team went back to a 4-day working week and the following weekend brought about a trip down south to the historical city of Malacca where the annual dragon boat race takes place along the Malacca river in conjunction with the Malacca Water Festival.

Every race course serves a challenge. In Malacca, teams have to race in small traditional boats which are heavier and older along a 250m waterway that has bends and no clear lane markers, once again putting our steerers on the spot.

Right from the morning briefing, coach Lee Shih was confident that the gold medal was within reach for the women’s team and he was right. With only 4 teams competing in the women’s event, all teams were to race 2 rounds and a combined time was taken.

Round 1 saw the KLBarBarians women flew ahead of the pack by a 10 second margin! As the haze began to thicken and the smell of smoke filled the air, the KLBarBarians women shaved off 2 seconds from Round 1 to take home the bling!

As many local teams signed up for the Open event, the battle was tougher for the KLBarBarians Open crew despite having the benefit of fielding 2 boats in this event. 1 boat made it to the semi-finals but unfortunately, we suffered another agonisingly close race – this time losing out to MMU by 0.09 seconds!

Unfazed by the lack of local competitions to attend for another 6 months, the KLBarBarians are already chartering their course for the year ahead. If you are keen to give this sport a go, look for us on Facebook. We train every Saturday (8:00 am – 11:00 am) at the Putrajaya Maritime Centre.

Reported by Lesley Lim

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