My team had been anticipating Sunday’s event for several months. On 15 January, 9:00 a.m., it was finally time for us to take part in our first actual race in the shape of the Singapore Canoe Marathon, or, as we called it, SCM.
We didn’t win anything besides one prize, a first place for the girls’ K2 event, but I still felt really proud of my team and the effort they had put into both preparing for the race and finishing it well. 16 km (for girls) and 21km (for guys) is really no joke, but I think my school made a pretty good showing, especially when the boats made their final sprint towards the finishing line.
I wasn’t able to participate in the marathon, so I and the C-boaters (basically the paddlers who use C-boats) signed up to volunteer our help for the event. It was pretty lit. Like, literally lit because we spent something like six hours on the pontoon under the sun.
The thing about canoe marathons (and, I’m guessing, any marathons) is that all the action is in:
- The first twenty seconds, or
- The last twenty seconds.
Because those are the only two times the boats are in sight.
Despite being exhausted, sunburnt and very sweaty, though, it was kinda fun.
The only thing was, that my teammates and I had opted to stay over at on-site because we didn’t want to have to travel all the way there, so naturally, we got almost no sleep. I don’t have pictures, but we were basically screaming and running around in at two in the morning. The boys had their shirts off and one of my friends blasted music from his speakers as my other friend pushed him around in an abandoned shopping cart they found in some shady industrial unloading bay. A worker there saw them take it, but it was like half-past one and he kind of looked at us with I’m not paid enough for this written all over his face and walked away.
Then at about three-thirty, we went back to the sleeping area and someone produced poker chips and cards, so we sat down for a game.
We ended up playing until four-twenty, and considering it was my first time playing poker I didn’t do that badly.
After that, we went to sleep, and were unceremoniously awoken an hour later by someone’s hideous alarm. I thought I was dreaming at first but it was, sadly, time to get up (I forgot to mention- reporting time was 6:15 a.m.). The boys had all forgotten their toothbrushes, so they just sat in a circle to play poker with unbrushed teeth which was so gross.
Then, it was time to get out and do our jobs.
By the way, I’m not sure how many other countries have dragon boating, so I’ll just briefly explain.
They’re basically gigantic kayaks with room for ten or more people. The people row in pairs, one paddling on the right side while the other paddles on the left. The sport requires crazy strength and mental willpower because literally the entire objective of it is to drag yourself, your teammates, and a 250 kg boat across 1000m of (probably very choppy) water in the shortest time possible. The originated in China.
There are different stories among us Chinese as to the origins of dragon boating, but to the best of my knowledge it commemorates Qu Yuan, a high-ranking, loyal official who fell out of favour with the Chinese Emperor and was banished. In grief at the state of his country, threw himself into the river. The common people, who respected him, rowed boats out to find his body and threw rice dumplings (粽子) overboard to prevent fish eating his body. I honestly don’t know how this ties into dragon boat races, but that’s the story I grew up with. This is also the reason we have rice dumplings when we celebrate 端午节, which is the name of the festival to commemorate Qu Yuan.
So, after that totally irrelevant and uninteresting segue…
There were all kinds of boats that I’d never actually seen in action before, like the surfski (sadly, I have no pictures) and what we call outriggers.
Also, I recognised a lot of people that I usually see at the river where I train.
I was pretty excited to see a female C-paddler (the one kneeling upright) because at the inter-school level, we don’t have a category for female C-paddlers. I would use a C-boat if I could, but sadly we aren’t given the choice to.
The national team had some really cool kayaks with designs on them, like a spiderman symbol or stars. One was decorated like the Flash’s suit.
All in all, I came back very sunburnt and very tired, but it was a good experience. Would do again.
Plus, I got a free T-shirt! And I managed to buy the “Life’s Short, Paddle Hard” shirt that every kayakist has in their arsenal of canoe-related wear.