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Home-rowed talent: dragon boat racing in Cyprus

In this video, athletic brand Cyprus Another Angle interviews Djordje Pavlovic, founder and coach of the Limassol Spartans dragon boat community, to learn more about this venerable sport.

Dragon boat racing has its roots in an ancient folk ritual of contending villagers, dating back 2,000 years to southern China, and even further to the original games of Olympia in ancient Greece. Both dragon boat racing and the classical Olympiad included religious practices and community celebrations, in addition to competition.

Turning to Pavlovic, we learn the native Serb has loved boats and paddle sports since the age of 10, recalling how he honed his early skills on the Danube, later to compete in flat-water kayaking professionally.

“I began coaching in 1999, since coming to Cyprus to coach the Canoe Federation,” he says. When dragon boating arrived on the island in 2008, he immediately became part of the fledgling sport’s local scene, helping to establish the Cyprus Dragon Boat Federation.

“It was difficult, in the first years,” he admits, given the lack of awareness regarding the sport, and often insufficient numbers to merit taking vessels into the water.

But flash forward to the present, and Pavlovic’s and his collaborators’ persistence has paid off: the number of Cyprus clubs dedicated to dragon boat racing has grown to six, with competitions taking place at both the local and international levels.

The standardised, fibre-glass and wood vessels carry teams of 12 or 22 people, each with a mandatory drummer in front to set the rhythm of the oars, and a helms-person at the back to steer the boat.

“Internationally, in China, we can find boats of 50 or up to 100 paddlers per boat,” adds Pavlovic. “But this is again, tradition.”

Official racing distances span 200m, 500m and 1,000m, as well as any type of marathon. Categories include open-, mixed- and all-female.

“It’s a team sport, but not a team sport like football or basketball where one player can make a difference, good or bad,” says Pavlovic. “Here, 20 people are paddling together, and there is a place for everybody. There are no restrictions in age and gender, size or shape of any paddler; everybody is welcome to the boat.”

The only exception are kids under 12, he says, due to size and safety concerns. It goes without saying that every rower must know how to swim, and practices include the correct procedure to follow, in the case of a boat capsizing.

Contrary to what may be believed, continues Pavlovic, dragon boating is a full-body workout, because power is transferred from paddle throughout the rest of the body. The sport also offers rowers a strong sense of team spirit, community and belonging, while honing synchronisation skills and racing tactics.

“Slowly, slowly, every paddler, with every training is improving,” he says, until they have the confidence to row efficiently.

Learn more about Dragon Boat racing, at the links below:

Join the Limassol Spartans community via:

View the original video on the Cyprus Another Angle YouTube channel here.

And to keep up with all the inspiring athletic happenings across the island, follow Cyprus Another Angle:

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Good Living is the Cyprus Mail’s portal of curated content from across the internet, showcasing local and global ideas, cultural highlights, and scientific and technological developments to inspire a sustainable life.

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