By Miles Surrey
FOR MANY Cypriots, dragon boating is a foreign concept and an even stranger sport.
The Asian origin of the sport leaves it with little connection to an island in the Mediterranean Sea. This has not stopped a group of mostly foreigners living in Cyprus from competing in Cyprus’ first World Dragon Boat Racing Championships starting on July 23 in Szeged, Hungary.
Debbie Theophanous, who will be helming the women’s boat in the championships, believes that this is a step in the right direction for Cyprus who will undoubtedly be the heavy underdogs at the competition.
“We were invited and we will be sending 35 people. In comparison, Australia is sending 500 athletes. Our team is composed of ordinary people with regular jobs,” Theophanous told the Sunday Mail.
Only one Cypriot is on the team’s roster, the rest are foreigners living in Cyprus and training rigorously at the Yermasoyia reservoir in Limassol.
Dragon boat racing is a paddling sport, using painted boats to which are attached decorative dragon heads and tails.
The normal crew number is 22, including 20 paddlers, one steerer and one drummer. It is a variation of rowing that originated in China and is still associated with the traditional Chinese dragon boat festival or Tuen Ng Festival in Hong Kong.
During the dragon boat race the paddlers sit in pairs, facing forward unlike in rowing. The steerer either sits or stands at the back of the boat. The drummer sits at the front of the boat facing backwards, and helps set the pace of the paddle strokes by beating the drum.
Whereas other countries such as Australia can provide 500 athletes and numerous sponsors, the Cypriot team will have no sponsors and will be self-funded for their first appearance at the World Championships.
Not all hope is lost, however. After visiting Cyprus in March for seminars on helming and coaching, the International Dragon Boat Federation recognised the small group of dragon boaters as Cyprus’ national dragon boating team.
Besides showboating privileges, this recognition also included the federation sending six new boats and paddles for the team.
“This will be the first time we have ever participated internationally. We have had Russian dragon boaters come to Cyprus before but this will be our first time participating outside Cyprus. We have been training for a while so the timing is good,” Theophanous said.
There is still the issue of the lack of members. For the ladies’ senior team that will be competing at the championships, the boat will only have eight women.
A team should have 10, and with all the other countries having more experience than the Cypriot team it puts them at a major disadvantage for those competitions.
The team is still eagerly looking for recruits and there is a fundraising event at the reservoir today starting at 9.00am with the first race starting at 10.00am.
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