I spent the day with the South Lantau Paddle Club and managed not to fall in.
What better way to spend an afternoon than being cuddled up 6 inches from a stranger whilst trying desperately not to elbow them in the face, in a thin fibreglass boat with 20 wet strangers whilst a very fit man in mirrored glasses and a cap at the back of the boat shouts at you "BUMP", "LET IT GO", "CATCH" and "LOOOOOOOONG". "NOW WE'RE RUNNING..." Oh boy! Welcome to the South Lantau Paddle Club - You're in for a ride.
I couldn't be more thrilled to have been invited along to the SLPC Buffalos recruitment open day. I jumped off the 3M bus in Pui O and made a beeline for Treasure Island, which incidentally, has been voted restaurant/ bar with the best view by Expat Living - Congratulations!
Waiting on the beach were a group of people in lovely purple and yellow rash vests branded up with the SLPC Buffalos logo. I was quickly accepted into the fold by team SLPC team member and my invitee Iain Finch, the Tung Chung Womble, and in turn introduced to a whole heap of other lovely people from all walks of life - teachers to professional photographers. One of the instructors, Lee ("LOOOOOONG") is a former world champion paddler. I'm in good company indeed.
Most club members are South Lantau based but three make the hop over the hill from Tung Chung for training sessions. They would like to get a few more interested from North Lantau so an easy taxi car-pool could be organised saving everyone time and money.
I and a few other trail-session folk were shown the boats, the correct paddles (as they differ between disciplines but both need to fit snugly under your armpit) and the correct way to use them. Turns out paddling is incredibly technique-based, and that technique varies depending on whether you're in a OC - 6 (outrigger canoe with six seats) or a massive 20-seat dragon boat. I was lucky enough to have a go in both.
I don't have any shots of me in the dragon boat or OC due to fear of capsising and losing my phone to Davey Jones’ Locker. These OC boats are so unstable if all the occupants were to look right at the same we’d all go in, so I spent the next 25 minutes desperately hugging the lefthand side of the boat akin to a paddling haggis, whilst trying to remember to ‘reach’ and ‘catch’ in rhythm with the number one position in the boat.
After about 5 minutes it felt like we'd all found our mojo and were working as a team thanks to Lee shouting encouragement, paddle clues and obscenities. "Golf is a s*%t sport..." "You don't play golf do you, Andrew?!" It is and I don't! His shouting worked and we were picking up pace. It felt good.
We paddled around the Chai Ma Wan peninsular and parked up (do you park a boat?) outside the Hong Kong Outpost but not before nearly scraping a giant hole out of the underside of the boat. “These rocks here are a “*%$#$%” someone exclaims as we frantically try to bring the boat to the right, whilst going backwards. It was like trying to park a giant carved-out chopstick.
Considering the amount of concentration needed to make sure you stay above the water line, it's a surprisingly social sport. Most of the talking in the boat is replaced by a rhythmic chanting but encouragement and laughter are abundant as we work together to surf the swell from a passing ferry.
After a short breather, Captain calls which seats to paddle next “1 and 4, 15.. and on 2, catch and go.” It’s like an episode of Countdown. Whilst those seats paddle, the rest of us crew are required to rock back and forth like a group of bears in captivity, in time with those rowing, all hoping we rock in rhythm and don’t hit a rock.
Out of the boat, we all mix fluidly like the water around the hull. The club kindly put on a BBQ for the new and existing members to mix, munch, drink and chat over the day. “Hey, Andrew, get a sausage in your hand”, someone calls over. , all the while Jon, SLPC all-round good-guy and coach shoots the breeze with me. Chatting me through elbow technique and the joys of Lantau living. It was a glorious afternoon of chatter, chomping, drinking and playing boules.
Whether you make the training sessions or not (they’re 6am in the week and a more catering 8.30am on weekends, with evenings also), I’d highly recommend the trial day. The last trial day is this Saturday 10th February 2024, although new members are welcome throughout the season. Visit the SLPC Facebook or Whatsapp 5204 8052 for more information on joining the club. Big thanks to Adrienne, Lee, Bob, Jon, Iain and the rest of the team.