Rowing toward championships

Tempo. It’s up to senior Thomas Nguyen and five other dragon boating members to maintain it. They aren’t thinking about how much farther or how far behind they are from other teams. Instead, Nguyen’s dragon boating crew focuses on keeping its rhythm to the beat of the drum.

During the summer of 2019, Nguyen spent five days competing in the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships in Thailand. Representing the U.S., Nguyen’s 20-man team competed in five different events as part of the under-the-age-of-16 division against countries including Spain, Great Britain, Thailand, Japan, Hungary, Germany, Australia and China from Aug. 20 to 25. 

“[Dragon boating] is really big on teamwork and cooperation because they’re so many people on the same boat with the same goal,” Nguyen said. “We have to do our best to be in a [synchronized] straight pattern. We can’t do a caterpillar motion. Our motions have to be like a butterfly.”

On August 20, Nguyen participated in a 2000-meter racing event. Following the first day of the competition, he entered a 1000-meter race. He competed in the 500-meter, 200-meter and 500-meter on the third, fourth and the last day of the championship, respectively. His team won a silver and a bronze medal in the 200-meter and the 500-meter competition.

“[The hardest part about dragon boating is] being able to keep a connection with your team,” Nguyen said. “If you don’t have a strong connection, or if you don’t feel like you have anything to provide or offer to them, then it’s not worth your time. Since it’s such a big sport that requires a large part of community-bonding, like socializing, it’s really important that you’re able to know your teammates.”

In order to attend the world championships, he attended three camps hosted at the Sante Fe Dam Recreational Area throughout the year. The first camp served as a qualifier for those who wanted to enter into the competition. The second elimination camp narrowed down the qualifiers. Lastly, the third camp finalized the boat lineups and rosters, determining which person would be the best fit for a particular role.

“I think [my favorite part about dragon boating is] how much effort people put into [it],” Nguyen said. “It looks really easy—like compared to the other sports, dragon boating doesn’t seem that difficult. You think you’re using your arms, but you’re using your entire body to focus on everything else. You want to try and keep up your maximum effort during the race.”

Nguyen continues to participate in dragon boating events. As captain of Asterisk, a dragon boating club, he hopes to compete in the upcoming spring season.

“Everyone can do [dragon boating]” Nguyen said. “Since it’s a team sport, it doesn’t matter how much power you show [at the start because] you’ll see a lot of development show up in you. It doesn’t matter how strong or weak you are. Dragon boating is just for everybody.”

By Andrew Kim, Feature editor
Photo Courtesy of Thomas Nguyen