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Inaugural Bahamas Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

Goodman’s Bay, Nassau, Bahamas, Aug 20 and 21, 2022 from a Canadian perspective

Submitted by Linda Kuska, Team Captain Rowbust BCS Team, London, Ontario, Canada and IBCPC Director

I had the pleasure of participating in this amazing adventure but with a double role. As a fairly new Director on the IBCPC Board, I started on the Board when the pandemic started so I have never had the opportunity to do any Outreach traveling and representing the IBCPC until this summer. And I was also with my Rowbust BCS Dragon Boat Team from London, Ontario, Canada since we were racing in this event.

It all started a few months ago when I participated in a Zoom call with Meri Gibson and many others from the Caribbean to promote breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams in the Caribbean. To say that the Caribbean is excited for BCS teams to be promoted would be a huge understatement!

In May of this year after the remarkably successful IBCPC outreach to Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamas, I found out that Nassau, Bahamas would be having their first ever dragon boat festival in August and that they wanted to promote the sport and to involve BCS teams, I just had to be there. Myself and my Rowbust teammate, Gail-Lynn Gastaldi (who grew up in Trinidad) were going to this festival and we would do whatever they needed us to do but we knew that we needed to be there. Then, our Rowbust team found out that we were going and of course, my team is always up for an adventure, and just like that, we had a Rowbust team registered!

Registration was free for international teams, so why not try to get more teams to attend! After promoting the event, Toronto’s Dragon’s Abreast decided to join Rowbust in attending.

We knew that it would be different to what we were used to. First off, it was 10-seater boats which are very tippy. Rowbust is lucky, we have a 10-seater boat to train in. Secondly, we were racing in the ocean, with tides and waves. And we knew that it was to have an island, Caribbean vibe…. how impressive is that!!

There were twenty-two teams participating in this 2-day event.

5 BCS teams – 1 from Panama, 2 from Canada, 5 paddlers from Pink Phuree, Texas and the new Bahamian BCS team, Bahamas Paddle Pushers.

Our practice day gave us a sense of what racing on the ocean, in small boats would be like, with boats, jet skis, banana boats all sharing the same water creating plenty of unwanted wake! Also, instead of racing into the waves, like we are used to, we were racing parallel to the beach, to give better spectator viewing, so the waves were crashing into the side of our boats… it was going to be an adventure, but we were up for the challenge and the FUN!

Friday evening, we had the captain’s meeting. Typically, our Captain’s meeting in Canada is done on the day of racing and only takes about 15 minutes prior to the start of racing so I wondered why this meeting was schedule for 2 hours. Well, I quickly found out that since none of the teams had ever raced before (except for the BCS teams), they had to have everything explained to them. Whilst those of us who were experienced may have rolled our eyes a few times at the long explanations, it all now made sense! The PanAm IDBF Officials were amazing and very patient with all the questions.

Saturday, August 20th – 1st race day

The first race of the day was the 500m BCS race with 5 BCS teams racing. The BCS teams were the only teams racing 500m because they did not think the community teams could do it, so all races were 200m except for the BCS races! (of course, the BCS teams can do that……we can do anything!!)

The water and the wind were fairly calm early in the morning when we were racing, thank goodness! Five BCS teams across five lanes, in the very 1st Dragon Boat Festival in Nassau! It was an exciting race with lots of cheering from the beach and the announcer (who just happened to be Meri Gibson) egging everyone one on, creating much excitement on the shore!

Now we were into the 200m races with the very enthusiastic community teams. The winds were starting to get stronger, and the waves were getting rough and choppy. Every race for the rest of the day had 1 or 2 boats capsizing. Everyone was fine, the water was warm, and the rescue jet ski would come and pull the boat and paddlers into the shore.

In Rowbust’s 2nd race, we lost our drummer, she saved the team from going over by jumping off the dragon boat. She got on a jet ski and climbed back on the dragon boat and away we went to the finish line, by ourselves mind you, but we finished!

In our third race, the waves were even rougher. I am not sure where these two huge waves came from but looking up the racecourse, all I could see was two huge waves coming directly for us. The first wave went right over our drummer and landed in our laps and the second wave took us out! It was fast but it felt like slow motion with all Rowbust paddlers ending up in the water and the boat was fully overturned. Our safety practices came into play, we made sure our seat mates were safe and we all had PFDs on. We had to flip over the dragon boat and then we were all pulled into the shore with the jet ski while we hung onto the boat. It was actually a lot of fun, and everyone was safe! In my 22 years of dragon boating, this was my first time capsizing in a dragon boat, but it was the perfect place to do it……you must do everything at least once in your lifetime 😉

After that race, the decision was made to pull the drummer off the boat (to make the centre of gravity lower) and to go with eight paddlers instead of ten. After they did this, no boats capsized, and we completed our third 200m race!

Sunday, August 21 - 2nd day of racing

Today was even more windy to start the day so a meeting with the officials where the decision was made to not have a drummer and paddle with a minimum of 6 paddlers to a maximum of 8 paddlers for all races. They did not want a repeat of yesterday’s capsizing.

First race today was a 500m final with the 5 BCS teams followed by 200m races with the community teams.

Our last race of the day was a 200m final with all 5 BCS teams with many dignitaries including members of parliament, the Prime Ministers wife and the Chinese Ambassador watching. Immediately after this race was the BCS Flower Ceremony which would be the very first flower ceremony for the Bahamian team members!

Sunday was a great racing day, no teams capsized, all races completed. Although, there was one capsize with a Jet Ski and our very own Meri Gibson was on it (she was acting as race starter and race umpire) ……yup, Meri ended up in the ocean, then when she was asked to speak at the official presentations, she quickly fluffed up her hair, got changed into a dress and made a beautiful welcome speech to everyone. The Flower ceremony was gorgeous, and very emotional as Meri spoke about the meaning of the ceremony and read a poem written by one of her teammates in memory of the passing of their youngest paddler, all with the shores of the crystal-clear turquoise water in the background!

Then it was time to get this party started…...In true Caribbean style, there was lots of music, dancing and entertainment before the award ceremonies started.

There were speeches from many dignitaries including the Minister of Tourism, Minister of Sport, and the Ambassador of China as well as, Franco Siu Chong PanAm Dragon Boat Federation President and Meri Gibson, IBCPC President.

Medals were placed around our necks, Trophies were given out but more importantly, lifelong friendships and connections were made.

How could we ever thank the organizers of the festival, the officials, the volunteers, the Steers, and the Bahamian people who participated and came to watch. It was truly an adventure that many of us will never forget, and we will tell these stories for a lifetime!

Our goal was to show the Caribbean what breast cancer survivors can do after the diagnosis and treatment of this disease. Our goal was to celebrate our sport and show that breast cancer survivors can be healthy and fit after the diagnosis of breast cancer and that truly “Exercise is Medicine”!