While sun invades the sky of unlikely motionless Cairo on weekends, most people enjoy hunting for the rest they rarely find during the hectic weekdays. Yet on the side of the Nile, a total different life takes place, where Nile Dragons take over the river.
From the early morning of every Friday and Saturday, energetic life vibes is all that one can feel from the passionate team while practicing the sport of dragon boating.
Dragon boating is a human-powered watercraft that originally comes from China’s southern Delta. In the boat, there are a number of 8 to 22 peddlers and a drummer, who is the main key. The drummer, or the “heartbeat” as it’s called, leads the rest of the members through the beats, which indicate the frequency and synchronicity of the paddlers’ strokes. Through encouraging, rhythmic beats, drummers also lead the rest of the team for their peak performances.
The game was introduced in Egypt last October by an Egyptian-Chinese couple who live in Egypt and wanted to mix the two cultures with a sport. As a part of the Egyptian-Chinese Friendship Association they run, they brought six dragon boats from China, aiming to spread the Chinese game in the Egyptian culture.
However, not until the Nile Dragon Academy bought a boat from them and started giving training sessions did it find its way to be known at the sports players’ community.
Abeer Ali, the chairperson of the academy, is the first Egyptian to introduce dragon boat training sessions for those who want to try.
“From the moment I tried dragon boating for the first time, I fell in love with it, and I knew I wanted to add that sport to my rowing academy,” Ali said, adding, “Moreover, I’ve always been drawn to rare, unknown sports that are waiting for someone to explore them and shed light on them.”
While boats take over the Nile at the Egyptian Rowing Club, rhythm becomes the dominating theme of the work, as every paddler has to work within the effort, speed, and motion of others.
The Nile Dragon Academy provides dragon boating not only as a sport, but also as a team-building class for those who want to learn teamwork.
As many other team sports, dragon boating teaches paddlers that the group takes higher priority than the individuals. “It teaches participating members strength and patience, as one cannot stop because he will double the effort that the rest of the team has to put up with; at the same time, he has to follow their rhythm for maximum productivity,” Ali explained.
From Ali’s point of view, dragon boating is considered much easier than steering. It doesn’t take much effort for a member to join the team for the first time; unlike rowing, which needs much time and practice in order to join a team and hit the water.
The academy opened its doors to the public starting from the beginning of June; however, within a few months, it managed to attract many people, and they established the first Egyptian dragon boating team, consisting of ten people.
“Other than the ten permanent members who train on a weekly basis, we have tens of people who come every weekend to experience the game, and we find them the next week bringing their friends, wanting to hit the boat together as a team,” Ali added.
More than 50% of people who try dragon boating for the first time fall for it and come again to practice it, Ali asserted.
Salma is a young mid-twenties architect. For weeks, she has been a loyal trainee for the sport, which she considers an ultimate stress-relieving gate.
“I’ve never been an athlete or anything. Actually, I’ve never walked more than 10 minutes in a day. However, what attracted me the most about dragon boating is that you easily fit in a team and workout without even noticing it,” she said.
The team is currently preparing for a dragon boat race taking place in Luxor next October, where they compete with two other teams from Spain and Hong Kong so far. The competition, which is organized by the Egyptian-Chinese Friendship Association, aims to attract larger attention to the game in Egypt.
On another side, the team doesn’t only go for early morning Nile rides; every month, the academy holds a full moon event, where participants launch at night over the moon light in one of the most mesmerising scenes any person can see.
“The Nile gets totally bright with only the light of the moon, to the extent that most of the time we don’t need any further lights to see,” Ali concluded.