How I came out at the Singapore Canoe Marathon 2014

Marathons are dime a dozen in Singapore. But a canoe marathon? There’s only one.

The Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) just held its annual Singapore Canoe Marathon last Sunday (12 Jan 2014), but with a twist: it was the first time it’s held at the Punggol Waterway, away from its traditional venue at Kallang.

Starting line of the fun race

Starting line of the fun race

The mainstream media billed it as bringing canoeing to the heartlands. Well, I’ve always thought of canoeing as a down-to-earth, grassroots kind of sports. If canoeing were a guy, he’ll be the clean-cut boy next door (and dragon boating would be the loud punk blasting techno music).

And Kallang isn’t exactly a glamourous location either (OK, rowing past the Singapore Flyer is pretty cool).

Boat storage area - waiting for their race to begin.

Boat storage area – waiting for their race to begin.

But it is my first canoe marathon, and I have been looking forward to it since signing up for the 14km event. More experienced paddlers do the full monty 28km. Since I usually do 10km training sessions, I figured 14km is an achievable milestone.

Here’s a diagram of the route for a 6km loop around the Punggol Waterway; 4km if you take away the C-X-D side detour into the little canal on the right. So for my 14km race, I had to do a 4km-6km-4km route.

Here’s how it looks like on Google Maps.

Giant tent with vendor and administration booths

Giant tent with vendor and administration booths

There was a fundraising event in the morning, with VIPs rowing a total of 40km to raise $40,000 for SCF’s new para-canoeing programme. As I’m currently the only para-canoeist on the team (and the face of para-canoeing by default), SCF told me to expect some media interviews.

I had lost my left leg in a motor accident in 2011 – amputated above the knee. It wasn’t a happy event, and I haven’t told many friends about what happened to me.

But rather surprising myself, I have no reservations about speaking to the press. Over the past 13 months, I have been rowing regularly at MacRitchie reservoir. I suppose I’ve gotten used to the stares and the innocent questions children ask loudly. After all, this is who I am now and there is no point in pretending otherwise.

And raising awareness about the benefits of canoeing is one way I can help other people.

Me heading back to the starting line.

Me heading back to the starting line.

So in a way, this is my coming out party. Yes I lost a leg, but it’s OK. There’s still so much to look forward to in life.

I spoke to reporters from Today and Straits Times. Desmond helpfully suggested that CNA’s Patwant Singh interview me on camera. I absolutely refuse to watch myself on video, but you can see it here (more links below).

OK, back to the marathon! I was slated to do my 14km race together with the VIPs. Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin paired up with Ziqiang, our national team captain for 14km. Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee went solo for 10km. Finally, Nominated MP Nicholas Fang rowed 16km with Roy Chew, Assistant Director of Water Venture at People’s Association, for a grand total of 40km.

That was the plan anyway.

But the weather soon put paid to that. Conditions were rather challenging from the start. Our kayaks are narrow and can easily topple in choppy waters. The winds were blowing gustily along the length of the course, much stronger than what I was used to at MacRitchie Reservoir. Rowing into the headwinds was tough work. When I turn at the far end of the course, the winds buffeted me from the side and I had to be cautious not to overturn. It was especially tricky when turning out from the little side canal where the waters were sheltered and calm – sudden gusts could catch one unawares. There were also boats zipping uncomfortably near and creating unsettling waves.

Fun race paddlers. Can you spot me?

Fun race paddlers. Can you spot me?

Then the skies turned grey and it started pouring. Fortunately I was already on the last lap of my race. But the rain raised the alarming possibility of having to open the dam to release the water, in which case all boats have to exit the water. That would have caused a massive delay in the schedule.

Thankfully it wasn’t necessary in the end. But Nicholas and Roy were held back while officials debated the decision, and could only manage to complete 11km in the end – 5km short of their target.

By some weird balancing of the cosmic scales, Desmond did two 6km loops by mistake, and so paddled an additional 2km. And Tan Chuan-Jin and Ziqiang somehow went off course and did an extra 3km, which was why they finished after me despite my chasing their tail throughout the race.

So all’s well that ends well – we got the 40km under the belt and $40,000 in the coffers. Really looking forward to the new para-canoeing initiatives by SCF. I’ve already heard some exciting plans in private, but will wait for the official announcement. SCF and coach Balazs have been great, I’m thankful to them for their support.

Rowing under the expressway

Rowing under the expressway

Tan Chuan-Jin and Desmond did really well despite very limited training opportunities due to their hectic schedules. They handled the choppy conditions calmly, and rather impressively, stayed afloat on a day when there were more than a handful of capsizes. It took me months of paddling before I felt confident on the kayak. Hope to see them paddle more regularly.

After the race, I had the chance to chat with TCJ and Desmond. They were relaxed and chatty, sharing about their families and hobbies. Nothing like sports to break down barriers and bring people together.

I managed to clock a respectable timing for the race. This was a great lesson in pacing – I could have pushed myself harder, especially in the last lap. Perhaps 28km next year? Now that I’ve left my job, I’m training more frequently than ever. Hoping to chalk up some real improvements in the coming months!

Would you like to join me?

List of media mentions for Singapore Canoe Marathon 2014

ChannelNewsAsia (includes video): S’pore Canoe Federation to promote sport to more Singaporeans

Straits Times: Singapore Canoe Marathon debuts in heartlands as 700 take to Punggol Waterway

AsiaOne: Singapore Canoe Marathon raises $40,000 for the para-canoeing community

Today: Canoeing on the Bay

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About Hun Boon

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
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