About two years ago, I was hiking with a good friend along the Wilson Trail when I told her I was looking for a regular weekend activity to stay fit.
Being new to Hong Kong, she had just found out about and joined a dragon boat team in Hong Kong. As it turned out, her team was looking for new paddlers, and she suggested I give it a shot.
I still remember struggling through the first few training sessions. I never enjoyed sports growing up nor saw myself as an athlete. I also never had a natural inclination to get in the water. I have always loved the outdoors, but as a non-swimmer, being on the water was particularly challenging for me. That soon changed as after a couple of weeks I fell in love with the sport.
Dragon boating helps me unwind, it keeps me fit, and it gives me an opportunity to immerse in local culture and make new friends. I gradually started enjoying being on the water – it was like an escape and a source of comfort after a long, tiring week.
THE ‘YES SHE CAN’ TEAM
I have been paddling with the ‘Yes She Can’ team (YSC) for two years now. It is an all-women’s dragon boat team affiliated with the ‘Yes She Can Project’, an NGO based in Trinidad and Tobago. YSC’s ethos is focused on motivating women to develop healthy lifestyle habits.
We have an extremely dedicated coach who has been paddling for over a decade, an excellent steersman, and an amazing group of women paddlers, all of different ages and from different backgrounds including at least 15 different nationalities. For most of us, paddling is a new hobby. The thing I love most about the team is that it encourages its rookie recruits (like me!) to embrace their inexperience, trust their instincts and step out of their comfort zones.
YSC’s motto is ‘Activate Motivate Celebrate’, which essentially stands for activating your mind and body to surpass limits, motivating your team to do better and celebrating your successes every step of the way.
As a team of paddlers with varying degrees of experience, we focus on training and building our paddling skills together for the season. Of course, we all want to learn and perfect our technique, but the more important thing is for us to show up and put in a concerted effort.
Our weekly training sessions comprise both water training as well as land-based body conditioning. Over the past two years, we have been fortunate enough to train at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and the Victoria Recreation Club in Deep Water Bay and make use of their excellent facilities. Our weekday land training takes place at Tamar Park, and our cool-downs align with the Symphony of Lights (the light and sound show) at 8pm, which always puts me in a good mood.
Like any other sport, I believe dragon boating can be of great value to the mental and physical well-being of those willing to step up to the challenge. This is an activity that requires a can-do spirit and I am proud of the YSC women who continue to demonstrate it and lead by example on a daily basis.
Making time for yourself and attending regular training sessions twice a week can be challenging. Self-motivation becomes an absolute must.
Besides, the success of the team hinges on everyone pulling their own weight which warrants a fair degree of commitment from every team member. To give you an example, the first five strokes in a dragon boat race are the most crucial. We practice these over and over again during our water training. But to burst into a full pace from a standing stop at the sound of the horn is not that simple – the entire team must follow the same rhythm to surge the boat ahead. The YSC women are pretty impressive in that sense. They provide an incredible support system which not only builds but sustains the drive.
The team also motivates and encourages pro-environmental behaviours, which has always been at the core of my upbringing given my mother is a committed environmentalist. We have collaborated with the Green Dragons Community (a team of volunteers dedicated to reducing single use plastics at dragon boat training and events) and have taken a pledge to paddle without plastic. We regularly participate in and motivate community beach clean-up activities, including the ‘Paddle for the Planet’ campaign - a global paddling relay event which takes place simultaneously all around the world and aims to raise awareness about ocean plastic and marine pollution.
It is remarkable how Hong Kong has taken an ancient Chinese tradition and transformed it into a friendly, international sport.
Although we believe in celebrating our achievements every single step of the way at YSC, there is nothing quite like race days. These 5-6 heart-pounding, long, hot race days around the Tuen Ng festival in June are the best days when you give it your all and celebrate the sweet successes of your completed races. No matter what the results, you come out feeling incredibly alive, strong and powerful.
It is especially heart-warming to see our loyal supporters (the ‘Yes She Can Life Support’) who show up to watch the races and cheer us on.
There is certainly a sense of emptiness for some time once the season ends after the races, but we have a very special group of women on the team who I’m in regular touch with even during off-race seasons. We catch up for hikes, beach clean-ups, family barbecues and more, every opportunity that we get.
These women, who are now good friends of mine, know how to appreciate and celebrate each other’s achievements, engage in open discussions, inspire others to realise their full potential, and above all, foster an exceptional esprit de corps. For me, that is a real joy to watch and be a part of!