Cyprus Mail
Life & Style

Sport for all

By Alix Norman

When it comes to sporting events, we’re a small island in a vast world. And yet, as a nation, we’ve managed to produce far more than our fair share of sporting stars. From renowned skeet champion Antonis Nikolaidis to last summer’s Olympic silver medallist PavlosKontides, Cypriot competitors are rapidly climbing the athletic ranks. But what you may not know is that the country is fast becoming a centre for a rather unusual sport, in which the island took two bronze medals at the last world championships: Dragon Boat Racing.

Next Sunday sees the annual Dragon Boat Racing Festival, an event which is now in its sixth year here on the island. With its roots in ancient Chinese folk ritual, this rowing discipline is widely celebrated in many of the countries in the Orient. And nowadays, in Cyprus too: “Every year we hold an international event,” explains Christos Georgiou, Chairman of the Cyprus Dragon Boat Association, which sanctions the festival. “In the past we’ve had teams from Dubai, Russia, Spain… last year we had 12 teams here, and this year we’ve also got a team coming from the UK.”

Riding high on their wave of success at the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Hungary during the summer, dragon boating in Cyprus has been going from strength to strength ever since it was brought to the island, in 2008.

“It began with the President of the International Dragon Boat Federation, Mike Haslam, who had a friend here,” Christos says, explaining the roots of the sport in Cyprus. “Mike suggested that we take it up on the island,” he continues, “and the Federation gave us four boats to start us off. If you think about it, dragon boat racing isn’t really that alien to the Mediterranean way of life: we’re a country that’s famed for its sea and its beaches, and that’s where the sport began.”

Christos himself became involved when he attended a seminar – given by Mike Haslam – on how to handle a dragon boat: “People who were already involved in kayaking and rowing, like myself, were very interested; we started training in the sea in Limassol. People would pass by on the beach and see what we were doing, become interested in the sport and then want to join in.” Training in the sea continued for several years – moving more recently to Yermasoyia dam, the site of this Sunday’s Festival – with the numbers involved growing rapidly: “We started a webpage, a facebook account and ran charity events,” Christos adds, “and so people got to know us, and what we were doing.”

These days, Cyprus boasts three separate dragon boat clubs, each divided into a number of crews. There’s the Limassol Spartans, Limassol Dragons and Limassol Paddle Sports (to which Christos belongs), responsible for the training of their various crews and teams. “Dragon boating is so fun and easy to learn,” says Christos, “that you can be racing competitively within two or three sessions. And it’s a fantastic team-building exercise: you have to coordinate 22 rowers and a drummer! It does take some effort, but is also quickly achievable and that gives participants a great feeling of satisfaction,” he continues, adding that it’s great pastime for anyone who loves excitement, physical fitness, being in the water and socialising. “Anyone can do it, from a 12 year old to someone who’s 99 – half the team that won a bronze medal in Hungary were about 60 years of age – this sport really is for everyone!”

With 12 races planned on Sunday, the event involves over 150 participants, and is bound to attract an even larger number of spectators, all eager to enjoy the colourful atmosphere and nonstop action. There will be a race every 15 minutes, from 10am until one in the afternoon, and anyone attending the event certainly won’t be bored: “The waterfront is always packed during the festival,” Christos says. “There will be a DJ playing music throughout the morning, and an after-party for both contestants and audience. It’s a really great family event; lots of energy and lots of colour – anyone with a camera is going to get amazing pictures!” So make sure you pack your camera and stake your spot on the shore before the crowds start to pile in; you certainly won’t want to miss the boats!

The 6th International Cyprus Dragon Boat Festival
Yermasoyia Dam in Limassol, October 20. Races take place between 10am and 1pm, and will be followed by a party. Attendance for spectators is free of charge. For further information about the Festival or the sport of Dragon Boat Racing, visit www.cyprusdba.org or email [email protected]

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