London Chinatown Lions June 2015

London Chinatown Lions – June 28th 2015

Two months ago, I never thought that I would be paddling at Lions. I joined a little later than the other G8s and my first training session was … tough. I remember how Paul approached me with a smile after I came off the boat feeling really drained, and said, “Welcome to Dragon Boating!”. After 10 more training sessions and one BDA, I would like to think that my timing is now in sync with the rest of the group … however … the video replays never lie…

I got up at 6:45am on the day of Lions – quite early for a Sunday morning, but I hadn’t packed everything that I needed the night before and was in a frantic rush to find my dragon boat kit. The captains told us that we had to be at the LRC by 8am, although we all know how a certain captain likes to stroll in at a different time …! I left home early (fearing the wrath of chairman Jez for being late – he sounded so serious in the Whatsapp group…) and made it on time with a couple of minutes to spare, only to find out that everyone else was planning to rock in at 8:30am…

The first part of the morning involved moving tables and shuffling bags around, as we had to share a marquee with 20 or so other teams. After the pandas had all gathered, we proceeded towards the race marshals to obtain the magic green wristbands that would allow us onto the boats. At this point, we divided into our two respective teams – The Windy Pandas (who were participating in the Professional Cup) and the Windy Panda Cubs (aka Windy Pandas Twoooo). Being one of the baby pandas of the group, I paddled for Cubs. A couple of team photos later, everyone took some time to relax before we were called for our first race. My right arm and shoulder were a bit tense from the ‘light’ training session that we had on Saturday, so Medic Grace gave me a massage (I’m surprised she hasn’t set up her own practice yet!). After a big panda family warm-up, we divided into our individual teams for a quick huddle. Cub Captain Alam was on point to give us a pep talk, and set us a target to finish a race in under 1 minute.


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In the first race, it was Windy Pandas vs Windy Panda Cubs. There were also 2 other teams in that race – one was C.A.T.H and the other … I really can’t remember … because they came last … *spoiler alert*. When we got out onto the water, we were surprised to find that there was a lot of faffing about (due to the high winds). Each time the boat was brought to a stop, everyone got into the down and ready position, only to be told that we needed another two strokes backwards or three strokes forwards. This certainly had an impact on my concentration as I could hardly hear one of the helms calling ‘Attention’. All I heard was “GO!” … and suddenly … we were off! I didn’t feel the boat move much initially, but then everyone got their race heads on and paddled hard towards the end. The Cubs were 3rd over the line with a time of 1:00:91, only a couple of seconds behind the Windy Pandas (C.A.T.H were 1st and Windy Pandas came 2nd).

The weather took a turn for the worse by the next race, with light rain and more wind than earlier. The Cubs knew that the 2nd time trial would be tough, as we were up against the GB Juniors. I can’t comment on the atmosphere on the boat as I was subbed out of this race. However, watching from afar, I was amazed by how the team managed to maintain their composure. Initially the GB Juniors pulled away from the Cubs, but the Cubs managed to keep up behind their tail. Timing was perfect, at least from where I was standing. Every stroke was so long, strong and synchronised that I thought I was watching the other Windy Pandas team. We finished with a time of 1:04:11 – slightly slower than the previous race due to the winds, but still, a great achievement to have kept up with the GB Juniors.

In the third race, the weather improved only slightly (I had to wear a waterproof jacket to avoid a repeat of our 3rd race at Runnymede). My friends and family had just arrived to watch me paddle, so I was buzzing with excitement to show them what I had given up my Saturday mornings to do. This time we were up against our buddies, the Easy Dragons. We also got to witness the drumming debut of Leanne ‘The Hulk’ Cheung, who (as the helm said it on the day) was too busy sitting at the front looking beautiful (and distracting the other teams of course!). Paddles buried deep, we were on high alert to listen for the race start. It was definitely a lot clearer this time around, but the next minute was a bit of a blur for me. The rate was picked up a lot faster, which led to some timing issues, and we were narrowly beaten by the Easy Dragons (!!!), finishing with a time of 1:01:31.

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To qualify for the semi finals of the Open Cup, the Windy Panda Cubs had to be among the 16 fastest teams, based on our times in all the races. We were the 9th fastest out of the 24 teams, so we had another race ahead of us. The Windy Pandas didn’t reach the Professional Cup finals, but they were great supporters … Quy and Pang actually went and paddled for another team …

While the Cubs were waiting to be called, the sun came out and the winds dropped considerably. Everyone received an extra boost in confidence when we found out that Paul would be helming our boat. All race heads were on, as we were up against the Easy Dragons again, as well as Mushroom Brand Fishball … (or was it … Fish Sauce? All I remember is that the drummer had a really cool mushroom-shaped hat). While the boats were lining up, Paul whispered to the back four … what he said will forever remain a secret, but it helped us to get off to a flying start as we shot ahead of the Easy Dragons with ease. We managed to keep up with the Mushroom gang, placing 2nd in the heat. Everyone on the boat cheered when we crossed the finishing line as we realised what this meant. We had reached the finals of the Open Cup!

Alam didn’t think that we would make it into the final – out of the four teams that we were up against in the semis, the Cubs were 3rd fastest on paper. But we had done it. And while we knew that we were up against some really big teams, we were just happy to be racing amongst the best of the group. Before we got on the boat, Paul helped us to get psyched up … by getting us to let out our roars. Being the nearest person standing to Paul, I was asked to demonstrate first … and … I think I sounded more like a little kitten than a big lion (*cringe*). But all of the Cubs got into the spirit of it and proceeded to give their biggest roar, which definitely made a couple of the surrounding teams a little nervous! On the water, everyone focused and determined to give 110%. When the helm shouted ‘GO!’, the Cubs let out their roars again and we were off …! Everyone paddled their hardest … some boats had a power surge and pulled away, but we didn’t let that get to us and kept on going. We managed to catch up to some of the boats towards the end, but unfortunately we didn’t get the fairytale ending that we had hoped for … we finished in 5th place. 

While we didn’t get to take home the trophy this time (nor did we meet our original target of completing a race in less than 1 minute), it was another great experience to be able to paddle with the best-looking dragon boat team around. I definitely learned a lot from the day – some key takeaways for me were:

  1. Always be alert, as they may call the race start faintly or very quickly (Paul keeps hammering this into us during training, but it doesn’t really sink in until you actually experience it in a race)
  2. Carbon fibre paddles are amazing!
  3. Wearing a Windy Pandas tee makes you an instant celebrity (Grace and I got paparazzi’d several times…) 

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As for final thoughts, a big thank you to the Windy Panda family for making the day an enjoyable one, and for feeding me nuts and Pringles when I got a bit peckish. And a special shoutout to Cub captain Alam …

Alam was so awesome, he’s normally awesome anyway, but he was especially awesome on the day…......

P.S. Alam also helped me to write 30% of this report … got to give credit where it’s due…

By Vanessa ‘Scooby’ Do