If you work in an office, the long hours spent in front of a computer can take their toll. And living in the centre of a city as big as Dubai can make it feel as though there’s no getting away from the frenetic pace of life, especially when battling rush hour traffic.
To get away from the chaos for a couple of hours, we signed up to join a dragon boat practice session with The Drakainas. Named after the Greek word for a female dragon, the team meets three times a week – at 7.30am on Sundays and Fridays, and at 5.30pm on a Monday.
During the racing season from September to June, the team takes part in six races around the UAE. Locations include Umm Al Quwain’s mangroves and Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, with an overseas trip on the cards, too.
Our practice session, though, will be taking place among the yachts and high rises of Dubai Marina. When we arrive, the sun is about to set and the water is quiet. There are only a few boats out and the promenade is verging on being deserted. It’s a remarkably calming and tranquil setting, one that we certainly weren’t expecting from this area of the city, which is usually thronging with tourists and filled with the hum of boat engines.
After a quick warm up we’re ready to clamber into the boats. We are shuffled around so that weight is properly distributed before beginning a ten-minute warm-up paddle through the Marina. Mel, the team coach, stands at the back of the boat steering and leading the session. Most of this practice consists of drills to build up the team’s fitness: 30 seconds of hard paddling, followed by a 30 second rest in sets of five. Gradually this is built up so that instead of 30 seconds rest there is 30 seconds of slow paddling.
I’m told that other sessions focus on different aspects of the sport, such as endurance or technique.
There’s good team spirit in the boat. Mel calls out encouragement, pushing everyone to paddle harder and faster while racing other boats out on the water. It’s tough going. You feel the ache in your abs and upper body as well as in your arms; proper technique is crucial. There’s a lot of rotation from the hip with each
stroke, so improper positioning can make things all the more difficult and put a lot of strain on your lower back.
As we begin a warm-down paddle back to the Marina dock, the sun has set and the water is glimmering in hues of orange, pink and blue. The call to prayer begins and echoes over the area. Other than that – and the sound of our oars breaking the surface of the water – there’s almost total silence. There’s something so calm and peaceful about being out on the water at this time of day that we don’t want to leave the boat. The soft twilight and twinkling lights of the Marina make you feel as though you’re a world away from the noise of Downtown or the queues of traffic trailing slowly down the Sheikh Zayed Road. It may not be the seas of Musandam, or the fish-filled waters of Fujairah, but it’s the closest you can get within a 20-minute drive of the office. Committing to the team also provides the opportunity to explore the UAE’s coastline while getting into shape through this welcoming team sport.
To find out more about getting involved with the team, visit their Facebook page: Dubai Marina Dragon Boat Drakainas.
Get involved in dragon boat racing
The team’s pacer and manager, Mariana Cavelier, tells us what it takes to commit to the team and why she loves the sport.
What are competition events like?
The events are generally hosted with a hotel and you will have about 20 teams taking part. It is a very family-friendly atmosphere with tents offering various F&B options and a DJ. They are great events to participate in and also to come as spectators.
What kind of commitment is required to join the team?
You must be able to join a minimum of two trainings per week and commit to work on your fitness outside the boat as well. It takes lots of patience, learning and muscle building. We each have a role to play and we have to be supportive of each other, and the best way to do that is by bringing your top game every time. We all work towards a common goal, which needs hard work and commitment from every member. We may knock egos sometimes, but the camaraderie and support is also extremely rewarding.
Is there the chance to have a go at dragon boating before committing to the team?
In Dubai, people are always moving away and unfortunately we lose some great team members that need replacing. We hold try-outs, but you have to be very fit to get a try-out session. If Mel (team coach) gives you the thumbs-up, you can attend four trainings before deciding if you want to commit. The best thing to do is have a look at our Facebook page (Dubai Marina Dragon Boat Drakainas) and send me a message.
What’s your favourite thing about dragon boating?
I love the fact that it is a very technical sport, so you’re constantly learning and improving your technique. It works out and changes your entire body, especially the core and upper body, which is often a hard area to target for women. What I love most of all, though, is the moment before a race, when you have worked so hard and you know the next few minutes are what it is all about – the adrenalin is extremely addictive.