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Byron Shire
March 5, 2024

Dragon boat racing returns to Ballina

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Monica Wilcox from the Rainbow Dragons with Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader and sponsor/paddler Parvin Mansouri. Photo David Lowe.

After three years of postponements due to COVID and then the floods, dragon boats from across the state came back to Shaws Bay on the weekend for a triumphant 2022 regatta, with racers of all ages, shapes and sizes.

Event sponsor (and Rainbow Dragon paddler) Parvin Mansouri from Seagrass Lennox Head summed up the mood. ‘It was the best thing in my life, joining this group. Everyone is always supportive, joyful… and we are in rainbow!’

Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader was also at Shaws Bay for the dragon boat event. She said the community race had always been her favourite, and it was great to be able to show off all the recent improvements to the park and bay.

Photo David Lowe.
Competitors in one of Sunday’s dragon boat races.

‘This has been going since 2013,’ she said, ‘and I think it’s just marvellous the skills that have come through, and the training that goes into it as well.

‘People have come from Kempsey and all over. It’s more than the region, it’s outside the region. It’s become quite a formidable event on the annual calendar.’

Blessing of the boats

Monica Wilcox is with the Rainbow Region Dragon Boat Club. She said the boats come all the way from China, and then have to be ceremonially blessed before they are used in competition, including the dotting of the eyes.

Ms Wilcox said she originally got interested in dragon boat racing when she saw the racers having fun on the Brisbane River and then enjoying coffee afterwards. Then, after she came to Lennox Head, ‘the first week that we moved there was a “come and try” down at the lake.’ After that she was hooked.

Photo David Lowe.
Dragon boats race for the finish line at the final race on Sunday.

Weather conditions for the regatta were ‘optimal’, apart from a bit of wind on day two. ‘There was sunshine, but it’s been mild enough for people to get out there and keep moving,’ said Ms Wilcox.

She said ‘hundreds’ of racers had attended the regatta, with competitors coming from as far south as the Hunter and as far north as the Tweed. Saturday’s competition featured a State of Origin race, with boats featuring team members originally from NSW, Queensland and ‘the Rest of the World’.

‘Yes, they came from places like the UK, Tasmania, Scotland, the Philippines, a lot of Victorians!’ Despite a complete lack of practice paddling together, the Rest of the World won.

Everyone’s a winner

Ms Wilcox said although it hadn’t been the best weekend on the water for the local team (who were outnumbered and out-paddled, with many newbies having a go), ‘they made up for it in chutzpah, noise and rowdiness!’

Photo David Lowe.
Winners and sponsor at the dragon boat regatta.

She said that while Lake Ainsworth would continue to be the main Rainbow Dragons training base (at least when the flood water went down enough for them to use their shed), Shaws Bay was the ideal spot for big regattas and competitions, with many competitors staying at the local caravan park, then eating and partying at night at the Shawsy across the water.

At the awards ceremony on Sunday, which included acknowledgements of breast cancer survivor competitors and a terminally ill team member in Kempsey who was unable to attend, (as well as a raffle winner who had bought 75 tickets to secure a hand-made rainbow quilt), Mayor Sharon Cadwallader thanked all the competitors and sponsors for a ‘tremendous event’ which had given everyone a boost after the floods and pandemic.

‘Congratulations to you all,’ she said, ‘and keep having fun!’

Dragon dates and places

Monica Wilcox told The Echo the next big dragon boat date would be in late November, for the Australian Dragon Boat Federation, with clubs all over organising races and other events.

People can find out more about getting involved with dragon boat racing locally at the Rainbow Region Dragon Boat Club Facebook page and Ballina Dragon Boat Racing.

Photo David Lowe.
Dragon boat crew return to the beach after a race.

Final race results from the regatta weekend:

  • 1km Chase Race – Kempsey
  • State of Origin – Rest of the World
  • 1km Chase Race – Kempsey River Rats
  • Mixed 20s – 1st  Tweed, 2nd Ballina, 3rd Kempsey
  • Women 20s – 1st  Tweed, 2nd Ballina,  3rd Coffs Coast
  • Women 10s – 1st  Kempsey, 2nd Flamin’ Rocks, 3rd Camden Haven
  • Men’s 10s – 1st  Tweed, 2nd Kempsey, 3rd Wollumbin Kalang
  • Open 10s – 1st Wollumbin, 2nd Kempsey, 3rd Ballina
  • Breast Cancer Survivors 10s – Dragonflies
  • Community – 1st Jetts Pilots, 2nd Resilience Warriors

Check out some photos of Sunday’s action below:

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