Waking the dragon for boat race spectacular

More than 100,000 spectators will cheer on competing teams at the biggest dragon boat races in the southern hemisphere as part of Sydney Lunar Festival.

The City of Sydney’s two-day regatta at Darling Harbour on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 February features more than 3,000 participants in 100 races, with teams from major companies and charities competing for top honours.

To ensure a safe weekend of dragon boat racing, Taoist monks perform the blessing of the waters and a unique eye dotting ceremony – dabbing red paint onto the eyes of each boat’s figurehead, which is said to awaken the dragons.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said: “The dragon boats races are a staple of our Sydney Lunar Festival celebrations. With lion dancing, a Taoist blessing of the waters and an eye-dotting ceremony, it’s an event not to be missed.”

Insurance company IAG has two boats in competition this year, led by passionate dragon boater Amanda Cocks, who will be part of the Australia team at the World Championships in Thailand later this year.

“Dragon boating gives people a bit of a lift and everyone loves the excitement. There are 48 people on IAG’s team and while many of them see it as a bit of fun, I’m training to be fit enough for a place in the Australia team’s boat, rather than just being a reserve,” said Ms Cocks.

“I have to train for 32 weeks and report back to the Australia team office with my fitness levels each week so I can earn a place in the boat – it’s a good fitness workout!

“But it’s not all serious for me – it will be fabulous to celebrate Lunar New Year and the Dragon Boat Races by visiting one of the restaurants that line Darling Harbour after the races. It will be a big celebration for the whole team.”

Leading professional services firm KPMG has a team of 72 paddlers competing this year, 50% male and female from every part of the Firm, led by KPMG’s National Managing Partner James Hunter.

The KPMG team won last year’s Championship race after placing close second to Westpac the previous year. But it was not all smooth sailing for the KPMG team before its 2018 win.

Battling winds and rain when KPMG competed in its very first dragon boat regatta in 2013, the team failed to even finish the race when their boat was flooded out in very choppy conditions in the previous Regatta location at Drummoyne.

“It was a tough start but we have learned a great deal competing over the last 6 years. We now start training in late October with great coaching support from Brad Hughes, Peter Jolly and Natalie Trajcevski from the ACCA Dragon Boat Racing Team, and the enthusiasm, involvement across the Firm and our paddling technique has improved every year,” KPMG dragon boat committee lead Kirsten Tran said.

“The team will be ecstatic if we win. Last year we had a celebration for our entire team with mini paddle trophies awarded by the CEO of Dragon Boats NSW, so there will definitely be huge celebrations if we win again” she said.

Sydney Lunar Festival has evolved from a small community celebration in Chinatown 23 years ago to a city-wide event that attracts more than 1.4 million people from around the world every year.

Sydney Lunar Festival runs until 10 February. For more details on the program and to plan your festival experience, see sydneylunarfestival.com

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