Dragon Boat Festival in Dubai

We quiz UAE Dragon Boat Association's Jason Mackenzie

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Back for a fifth year, Dubai Festival City Dragon Boat Festival is expected to attract thousands of competitors and spectators on Friday April 6 and Saturday 7. Given the sport’s continuing popularity in the city, it’s hard to disagree with the organisers’ expectations of a large turnout, though they’re forced to cap the number of teams participating due to space. ‘I have about 5,000 participants every year,’ explains Jason Mackenzie, the Canadian technical director of the UAE Dragon Boat Association. ‘But the maximum for this event is about 55 teams, because the logistics of the venue don’t allow for any more than that.’

Outside of the competition, Mackenzie believes interest in dragon boating is still growing in Dubai. A Dubai resident for 12 years, Mackenzie puts dragon boating’s popularity down to the unique appeal it holds for the emirate’s large population of expats, and it’s not all about fitness or having the competitive streak that most sports require. ‘It’s popular primarily because it’s inclusive. People turn up in this city, they have no friends, no family, no social network. If you haven’t played rugby before, you probably won’t join a team; if you haven’t played basketball before, you probably won’t join a basketball team either because you don’t have the skill sets necessary, and you could injure yourself,’ he continues, ‘Anyone can try dragon boating. There are so many different levels, from novice through to expert.’

Back on the subject of the two-day festival, Mackenzie explains there will be a number of divisions, with races taking place along Dubai Creek in front of the Crowne Plaza Festival City, over distances of 1km, 500m and 200m. ‘It’s a mix: we have a premier division, and the top teams in that will be attending the world championships this year, but we also have a university division, an intermediate division and a social division,’ he says. There will be about 20 prizes up for grabs for competitors, ranging from trophies and dinner vouchers to clothing and luxury sports watches. Between races, spectators will be pleased to note that the Belgian Beer Café will be running an entertainment tent and ‘Belgian Garden Café’ in front of the hotel overlooking the races, where drinks will be available throughout the event. An after-party will also be held on the Friday evening.

Fans and enthusiasts won’t need persuading to head down, but if you’re new to the sport, the festival is well worth a visit. And with all the camaraderie and endorphins buzzing about, you may even find yourself scouting for a training class near you. As Mackenzie says: ‘There’s a place for everybody in dragon boating. You instantly get the activity, a little bit of fitness and, more importantly, the social network.’
Dubai Festival City Dragon Boat Festival is free for spectators.
8.30am-5.30pm, Friday April 6; 11am-5pm, Saturday April 7. Dubai Festival City Marina, www.dubaidragonboat.com.

Three to try: local dragon boat teams

Dubai Dawn Patrol Dragon Boating: Set up in 2008, Dawn Patrol meets at Barasti beach to practise three times a week and encourages new sign-ups, whatever their level of fitness.
First three sessions free, annual membership Dhs1,000. Tue and Thu 5.45am-7am, Sat 4.45pm-6pm. Barasti Beach, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi, www.dubaidawnpatrol.org (050 879 5645).

Dubai Diggers Dragon Boat:
Also founded in 2008, this group boasts members from Australia, the Philippines, South Africa, America, Britain, Ireland, Jordan, Mauritius and many more.
They meet three times a week at Jumeirah Beach Hotel – call ahead to try it out. First five sessions free. Mon and Wed 6am-7am, Fri 7.30am-9.30am. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, www.dubai-diggers.com (050 718 5104).

Dubai Flying Dragons: This team practises throughout the week, with free sessions on Saturdays for beginners and a specialised coach on hand to take you through the basics.
Free on Saturdays for the first month, Dhs1,000 annual membership. Tryouts Sat from 4pm, regular practice Mon and Wed from 6am, Sat from 4.30pm. Barasti Beach, Le Méridien Mina Seyahi, www.dubaiflyingdragons.com (050 956 4021).

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