OVER 1,100 local and foreign athletes, coaches, managers and officials from 41 clubs, including the world’s number one ranked dragon boat team, 22 Dragons from Montreal, Canada, will flock to North Beach, Pigeon Point, Tobago for the Pan American Dragon Boat Club Crew Championships, the event with the largest number of entrees since it was first held in 2013.
Top clubs from Pan American Dragon Boat Federation (PADBF) member states, including TT, Panama, USA and Canada, will line-up over the three days of races from March 22-24, following an opening ceremony a day before.
With the PADBF being held in other Pan Am member states, including the US (2013), Canada (2015) and Puerto Rico (2017), it begs the question: “Why Tobago?”
PADBF president and TT national Franco Siu Chong, raised and addressed the question during yesterday’s event launch at the Olympic House, Port of Spain.
“Dragon Boat racing is for flat water conditions. We don’t have flat water conditions.
“So Keith [Dalip, president of the TT Dragon Boat Federation(TTDBF)] came up with an idea that dragon boating – this is a sport tourism product. Tobago has sand, sun, beaches but have no flat water. So this will be a first.”
Siu Chong said the water conditions and Tobago’s environment will create a niche event.
“We will attract the people who would want to come to dragon boat racing, experience what we do in the Caribbean with the rough water and establish an international dragon boat regatta that is called ‘extreme dragon boating.’ In sport tourism, you need a little niche. All over the world, there are better racing conditions but no one has the rough waters and the conditions that we do. So to create that niche, we said Tobago is the best place to have it and call it extreme dragon boating and we kick it off with the Pan American Dragon Boat Federation championships.
He said Tobago has always been receptive to dragon boat racing and the location has been a hit for competitors from Trinidad.
Dalip welcomed the vast number of participants and identified 22 Dragons as the club to watch. “...you can imagine, the competition is going to be pretty robust,” Dalip said.
Clubs will arrive from the PADBF affiliates including Panama, USA, Canada and TT – the only Pan Am member in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Unfortunately, teams from Puerto Rico – hosts of the 2017 Pan American event – are unable to compete as the US territory is still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in September, 2017.
Roughly 900 of the attendees are athletes, while the balance is comprised of support staff, many of whom will stay at the Magdelena Grand Beach & Golf Resort. Another partner, Caribbean Airlines, has reduced the price of flights for visitors.
According to assistant director of sport and physical education at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, Gabre McTair, who stood in for minister Shamfa Cudjoe, the government organisation is taking the “niche” aspect of the event seriously.
“It’s very much a pleasure for the Ministry of Sport to be engaged and to provide support to the TT Dragon Boat Federation as well as the Pan American Dragon Boat Federation in this particular venture. We see it as being very important for the creation of events in Tobago for the purpose of sport tourism and development,” McTair said.
“Considering the numbers that are already confirmed to come across to Tobago, it really creates a very exciting atmosphere with regards to how it is we can create events that have an international appeal... that make people want not just to come to Tobago for the event but also want to come back afterwards.”
McTair said since the ministry’s first interaction with the TTDBF, the officials saw a “very strong level of purpose from the aspect of pushing sport tourism.”
“Even further discussions with the THA (Tobago House of Assembly) and the festivals commission – they are very excited and have been pouring in support.
“Much appreciation to the TT Dragon Boat Federation for seeing a niche; I think that’s very important aspect of an event building industry, seeing a niche and exploiting that.” The 18 clubs from TT include Aquaholics, the most successful club in the sport’s short local history, and Oceanus from Tobago, which dominated the last major local championship. There are six divisions of competition: Premier, Senior A, B and C, Under-21 and Under-16.
The races will commence on Friday and continue until Sunday, when there will be a closing ceremony, followed by a dinner at the Magdalena Grand Resort.
Teams will begin arriving on March 19, three days before the event and an opening ceremony will be held on March 21, following the captain’s briefing at Magdalena.
Apart from Magdalena and Caribbean Airlines, other partners include THA, Champion Dragon Boat and the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. Excellent Stores, which has been involved in sponsorship of dragon boat racing teams and events for several years, is the event’s sponsor.
However, the organisers did indicate the event’s need for further corporate sponsorship and said those that come on board will be given appropriate recognition.