Dragon boats take to Abu Dhabi waters

The annual event is not just a way to stay fit, but also a team-building exercise.

October 9, 2010, Abu Dhabi, UAE: 

Mixed teams (meaning both men and women are on the teams) compete at the annual Dragon Boat racing competition. Each team represent a corporation and can compete in different races denoted by the length of the course. At the end of the day teams are given awards and one is named the champion.

Lee Hoagland/ The National
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // Jordan Solon pointed to his stomach as he took a break from rowing a dragon boat with his teammates.

He was illustrating how he shed a few pounds over three months of training for the Abu Dhabi Dragon Boat Festival, as part of the Fairmont Vikings.

Organisers say the annual event is not just a way to stay fit, but also a team-building exercise, where executive officer and janitor row side-by-side and camaraderie is on full display.

"It's all about community," said Levent Tekun, the director of sales and marketing at the Shangri-La Hotel, where the tournament was being held.

Hundreds of participants lined the beach despite the searing afternoon sun, enjoying barbecued burgers between bouts of furious rowing.

It was particularly challenging for the Shangri-La and Traders Dragons, a joint team who adopted the gruelling Chinese style of dragon boat rowing for the 200m race.

"Quicker strokes all the way. It's more tiring, a short course, and 110 per cent of our power," said Rodolfo Vierdida, the team's captain.

The team had stepped up their practice before the competition, trying to fit in some training time every day in the fortnight before the races, which began on Friday. The teams had all the resources they needed at their disposal, Mr Vierdida said.

Henning Fries, the general manager of Fairmont Bab al Bahar and a member of the Vikings team, said the activities helped employees and colleagues socialise.

There was a "good mix of all the different departments and nationalities", he said.

Dragon boating originated 2,500 years ago in China. In 2006, Dragon Boating in Dubai was the first UAE-based organisation to adopt the sport, practised by 50 million worldwide.

The races are divided into a corporate competition, whose participants are usually better supported, a premier competition and another for schools and universities.

Mr Solon said the team took their cue from the Philippines' national dragon boating team, who are record holders in the 200m race.

They would find out later that day if they were on track to follow in their footsteps. "They're our idols, simply the best," he said.