Making waves with boat racing

Fadhil Yunus

Traditional boat racing has been known to be one of the most popular water sports in the country, notably evident with huge and active participation from both the younger generation and seasoned veterans.

The Brunei Darussalam Regatta, which portrays a combination of discipline, might, speed, strength and willpower from the local teams, provides ingredients for a true sporting spectacle and celebration.

With a growing number of traditional boat race clubs including company teams ranging from banking, finance and telecommunications, healthy and intense competition has helped garner huge interest and following among boat racing enthusiasts and the public.

Teams such as Waktu and Saba are inspired by elements of pride and passion where they represent their mukims and villages and areas in their quest to showcase the strength and talents of the people residing there to the wider community.

Traditional boat racing typically combines physical strength and endurance, especially arms and shoulders, along with mental strength, as long distances and strong currents provide a raft of challenges.

It is a team effort featuring a standard crew between 15 and 30 paddlers on one specially constructed boat with varying categories, according to distance and targetted groups.

Photo taken on November 26, 2017 shows regatta teams during a competition. PHOTO: AMRI BIN HAJI MD SALLEH

Similar to other conventional sports, the demands and high fitness levels associated with traditional boat racing vitally underscore the importance of adequate training and enhanced preparations to ensure that the rowers are in top condition.

Over the years, the Brunei Darussalam Regatta has also witnessed the participation of foreign teams from the People’s Republic of China, Indonesia, Lawas and Sabah.

In 2019 the Lela Cheteria Boat Race Team emerged as one of the leading teams in the country buoyed by an impressive outing at the prestigious Brunei Darussalam Regatta.

The team dethroned defending champions Laksamana Sinampuan and overcame another invited team in Pasukan Olahraga Dayang Seluruh Indonesia (PODSI) Kalimantan Barat to win the 30-Rower Traditional Boat Race event.

Team leader Pengarah Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Mohd Yussof attributed constant training to their success, especially as the main competition loomed closer.

“The Lela Cheteria team has undergone a lot of solid training and even more so when the time of the regatta drew closer. Everyone’s efforts in standing shoulder to shoulder drove us to victory,” he said.

The team had previously trained under tough conditions, including practising and perfecting their rowing techniques, which would then translate to speed and power in the waters.

The Lela Cheteria ‘B’ team, comprising young rowers from Sayyidina Umar Al-Khattab Secondary School, joined their senior teammates in the winner’s circle when they raced to victory in the 15-Rower Inter-Colleges and Secondary Schools Fibreglass Boat Race.

In what appeared to be an inspiring performance, the senior team also scored a runner-up finish in the 30-Rower Traditional Boat Race Marathon event, the event’s finale, and were only bested by eventual winners Laksamana Sinampuan.

Trailing behind the Royal Brunei Police Force Sports Council (MS PDB) in the early periods of the race, they caught up and moved to second place, where they eventually stayed firm to cement their position as the best local team of the race.

Lela Cheteria Boat Race Team also tasted success in the regional circuit when they won the 800 -metre mixed international event at the 3rd Sabah FCAS Dragon Boat International Race. They clinched second place in the 5,000-metre mixed event of an international dragon boat race in Johor amid competition from teams from Singapore, Japan and Canada.

Equally as impressive beyond these shores was the Mukim Saba Boat Race Team (PLPMS), a team based on the namesake mukim, after reaching the final of the Regatta Boat Race in Kuching, Sarawak in 2019 as the sole representative from Brunei.

Throughout 2019, PLPMS also enjoyed a number of podium finishes including eight first-place finishes, four second-place finishes and three third-place finishes as a result of participation in six boat race championships, both domestic and overseas. These races were the MPK Pintu Malim Boat Race, National Boat Race, Brunei Darussalam Regatta, Belait District Boat Race, Sarawak Regatta and MPK Sungai Bunga Boat Race.

Unearthing youth talents also lies at the centre of the team’s interests, particularly in harbouring ambitions to integrate them into their set-up in preparation for the future, with the management advised to involve youth in recreational activities and sports.

In recent years, uniformed personnel have also enjoyed a slice of success in the domestic scene with national titles under their belt, further underlining the competitive nature of the sport.

Amid a field of fierce competitors, the Ministry of Defence bagged the National Traditional Boat Race Championship title in 2016 while the MS PDB took the same crown three years later.

MS PDB had previously shown good form when they emerged winners of the 20-Rower Marathon Race category in the Traditional Boat Race Meet two months prior to the national championship.

The police personnel asserted their dominance along the Taman Mahkota Jubli Emas after winning seven of the 11 categories including four in the first six.

In 2018, Waktu Team emerged as champion of the National Traditional Boat Race Championship after clocking a time of 3:49.20 in the 30-Rower Local Open Marathon category.