‘Weekend warrior’ PH Dragon Boat team looks to conquer Korea anew
MANILA, Philippines - They’re moms and dads. They own businesses, raise families and still find time to get out on Manila Bay for training.
They’re the Solid Aqua Fortis Batch 1 Dragon Boat team, more commonly known as SAG-1 (pronounced sagwan). This 33-person team comprised of “weekend warriors” will travel to Busan, South Korea this week to compete in the Fourth Open Busan International Dragon Boat Festival from October 8-12. They’ll compete in 8 events in the standard and small boat competitions and look to build off their four silvers from last year’s competition.
The team started in 1992 as the paddling crew of University of Santo Tomas, competing as college kids as far away as Taiwan. Many of them still paddled together until 1999, when the reality of post-collegiate became something they couldn’t put on the back burner anymore.
The next generation, or batch, took over the UST team but the love for the sport never left the original group. In 2010, a few of them came together for a “reunion row,” as team captain Wendell Florentin puts it.
The get-togethers are like little class reunions; they meet up at dawn, chat and eat breakfast together, reminiscing on their times in school. “Sometimes you forget you’re there to train for the competition,” said Florentin, who works as an architect by day. “But at the end of the day we’re just happy to row. We don’t mind being a member of any federation; we just row because we love the sport.”
They got the team back together, trained as much as they could and headed to Thailand for the 2010 Thailand Swan Boat Race but didn’t medal. That experience rekindled an old passion inside that got them wondering: “With a little more practice, could we win?”
The following year, they competed in the Second Busan Open International Dragon Boat Festival and brought home a bronze for the mixed 500 meters event. Then in 2013 they went to Kaohsiung City, Taiwan and won silver in the 500 meters traditional boat mixed event and gold in the 500 meters mixed standard boat event.
They also returned to Busan, this time grabbing four silvers in the small boat competitions.
This year’s competition will be their last in Busan; next year they’re looking to conquer Osaka, Japan after receiving an invitation to compete.
Paddling abroad comes with a price, literally. Their accommodations for the duration of the upcoming event will be covered by the event organizers, says Florentin, but the team has to pay for its own airfare.
With no funding from the Philippine Olympic Committee or the Philippine Sports Committee, the expenses pile up. They have to pay terminal fees and travel tax up front and wait to have it reimbursed.
“We just have to get it later. That’s 1,800 pesos for one person, 550 for the terminal fee for travel tax. An extra 2,300 pesos and 30 paddlers, that’s over 70,000 pesos. That’s about $1500,” said Florentin. “We just try to go there and compete and represent our country, how hard is that to understand?”
Their training comes whenever they can get away from work and familial duties, which is usually about once or twice a week. By comparison the national team trains four to five times a week.
But all of those hurdles seem to fade when the race is over and they’re able to hoist the Three Stars and the Sun above their heads in victory.
“It feels great because every time we’re there we’re not SAG-1; we’re the Philippines. Every time we win it’s winning something for our country where not most people can do so.” - Rappler.com