Final training for Australian Dragon Boat Championships at Gateway Lakes

FIRST impressions have been favourable as visiting teams arrive at Gateway Lakes, Wodonga, for this week’s Australian Dragon Boat Championships.

“It’s beautiful, it’s just such a nice, serene environment,” Derwent Storms head coach Ali Mourant said.

The 24 Tasmanian paddlers had their first training session on Wednesday morning and found the Border conditions to their liking.

“We were a bit worried about what the water was going to be like; you never know because it’s always very different,” Mourant said.

It was certainly a contrast to their home base at Lindisfarne Bay in Hobart with its salt water, tides and frequently rough nature.

“And we also have to contend with a big ferry that comes up and down river every now and then,” the coach said.

Nearly 50 clubs from across Australia are represented at the national championships, which began with Wednesday afternoon’s opening ceremony. The formalities included a procession of flag bearers from each Australian state and territory, the traditional dotting of the eyes to awaken the dragons and the official welcome.

Masters racing on Thursday and Friday will be followed by state representative teams on Saturday and then two days of premier and junior events.

The courses vary between 200 metres, 500m and 2000m, as well as 100m relays scheduled for Saturday.

Championships organising committee chairman David Nairn encouraged people to come and watch the action, particularly highlighting the 2000m contests.

“Where the boats start off at 20-second intervals and race twice around the course; the fast boats try and pass the slow boats and that’s very spectacular,” he said. “The racing’s unbelievably close, often, late in the day when we come to the finals, the racing is just fast and furious.”

Each day’s competition is due to begin from 8am.

Mr Nairn said volunteers from the two Border clubs had worked long and hard over many months to make sure the facility could handle its first national titles.

“Every time I come, I think, ‘Yeah, that’s good enough’ and then every time I come back, it’s better,” he said. “As people walk in (now), they just say, ‘Wow, what a wonderful site’.”