Behind-the-scenes preview of 938Live radio interview

I haven’t listened to radio for a long time. It was partly the tired playlists, but Glenn Ong’s tasteless antics and unfunny jokes on Class95 had tipped me over the edge years ago.

So I didn’t know what to expect when a close friend hooked me up with 938Live’s Daphne Lim, who does a Sunday morning talk show called “The Good Life”.

The cheerful lady in purple is Madam Ong, who assists behind the console. She’s the one that cues the music intro (I always thought they add that during post-production), and adjusts the volume on the microphones. When I mentioned that the recording studio was chilly (the insulation is excellent, as you can imagine), she helpfully got us a pair of sweaters.

Daphne speaks like any other Singaporean, until the microphone is switched on. Then she puts on this amazing radio voice. It was like the difference between mono and stereo surround sound. I wish I have a radio voice too.

The Good Life is a breezy, lifestyle programme that discusses the good things in life. I suppose that’d be things like spas, sports cars, holidays in exotic locations… so I’m not really sure why they would be interested in para-canoeing.

But I’m happy for the chance to share with people my experiences, so I didn’t ask too much. I did the pre-recording on Wednesday, with the broadcast due on Sunday (9 Feb) at 10am and repeat at 8pm (GMT +8). Overseas listeners can tune in at 938Live’s live stream.

Thankfully, it’s not a live recording. Otherwise I’d be a nervous wreck.

I write better than I talk, so this blog post is to provide additional information about some of the topics raised during the interview:

Short version

Canoeing is fun, come and try! Email joseph@scf.org.sg for more info.

Long version

I was invited onto the show to talk about para-canoeing. Para-canoeing is canoeing for people with physical disabilities. Other than some simple modifications to the boat or paddle, everything else is the same as regular canoeing.

I lost my left leg in a motor accident in 2011. The national team coach, Coach Balasz, carved a block of Styrofoam, which was then glued down in front of my seat to help prop up my leg. It’s very basic but gets the job done. But I’m now starting to face some stability issues as my speed and stroke frequency increases. Hopefully, I will be able to get a customised rig in the future.

The Singapore Canoe Federation (SCF) has a vision of canoeing as an inclusive sport for everyone, including the physically disabled. That’s why they are making a big push to develop para-canoeing in Singapore. The “Paddle for a Cause” fund-raising event that raised $40,000 at the Singapore Canoe Marathon last month was just the start.

At the moment, I’m the only para-canoeist in Singapore, so I’m the default spokesperson. I have been blogging for a few years about stuff I’m interested in, such as psychology and technology. Now that’s become a useful platform to reach out to a wider audience about para-canoeing. Daphne was very nice to repeat my blog URL a few times in the show.

I’m very new to the sport, completing my 1-Star basic safety course in April 2012, and starting training in Dec 2012 after a second operation. So my total canoeing experience is only just over a year. There is another para-canoeist Jarius, but he’s currently studying in USA. He’s done really well at the World Championships for the past two years, coming in 7th in the finals.

That’s not a bad start, but we definitely want more people to get on board. Judging by the muscles on most canoeists, para-canoeing is obviously a great form of physical rehabilitation. I got started when my physiotherapist invited me to a sailing open house, where I met an officer from the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC). This was about 8 months after my accident and I was suffering from phantom limb condition. My leg is gone but somehow my brain didn’t get the message and still thinks it’s there. This causes severe neural pain for which I had to take strong prescription pain medication 5 times a day. I had hoped that doing sports would help improve my physical strength and control the phantom limb pain.

The sailing thing didn’t work out (I got seasick despite coming from a family of fishermen), but the SDSC officer arranged for me to try canoeing next. Prior to this, my only rowing experience was a two-day canoeing camp at my junior college’s Outdoor Activities Club almost two decades ago.

I loved it.

I felt so free and relaxed on the water, gliding along silently with my power. Being out there on the water and getting a glimpse of nature that most people never had the opportunity to see certainly does wonders for one’s mood.

I practise at MacRitchie Reservoir, just across the road from the MediaCorp Radio building. I’ve seen creatures that you don’t expect to exist in the concrete jungle that is Singapore. My favourite time to paddle is right after a thunderstorm, when the air is crisp and the water is still. The place is quiet as the crowds have yet to return.

You can also paddle at Kallang on the Rochor river, slipping under the Merdeka bridge and getting up close with personal with the Singapore Flyer. That’s also where the dragon boaters train, so things can get rather rowdy with them around.

One year on, my strength has certainly improved although all that exercise hadn’t helped the phantom limb pain. But now I’m paddling simply because I enjoy it.

So what can we expect from the para-canoeing programme? For a start, there’ll be new kayaks. I’m using a Viper 51 T1 kayak – the ‘1’ refers to the number of persons in the kayak. A T1 kayak has a broader body than the racing K1 kayaks. It’s slower but much more stable. Given that I was capsizing with alarming frequency in the first three months, the T1 Vipers are a great choice for para-canoeists.

Wait a minute! So what’s the difference between canoeing and kayaking? Well, the all-encompassing generic term is “canoeing”, but without getting too technical, the main differences are in the sitting position and paddle. A kayaker sits down on his bum and uses a double-bladed paddle, while a canoeist kneels down on one knee (the classic proposal pose) and rows on one side with a single-bladed oar. As you can imagine, it’s not very comfortable rowing a canoe. Luckily I paddle in a kayak.

So if you think para-canoeing could be your cup of tea, come on down to MacRitchie reservoir and get it a try. Joseph is the manager in charge and you can email him for more information at joseph@scf.org.sg.

Just come over and have fun canoeing. I think it’s impossible not to feel better after a session on the water.

And if you want to go farther in the sport and participate in competitions, we’re there for you too. I’m 37 this year and started with no prior experience. Later this year, I will have the chance to go Hungary and Moscow for international competitions. My wife is especially excited to hear that glamorous Milan is slated to be a competition venue in 2015. My long-term goal is to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Brazil, which will be the first Games to include para-canoeing as an official event.

All this is possible thanks to Coach Balazs for his guidance and SCF for their financial support. All para-canoeists will have their equipment and competition costs covered by the federation. When I started, I had to pay for my own paddle.

An infusion of new blood has reinvigorated the SCF committee and our sports advisor Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee has been going the extra mile for the canoeists. There are also many friendly people in the canoeing community who have helped me along the way. So the support is definitely there – it’s just up to you and me to make the most of it.

Are you excited about giving canoeing a try yet? Once again, you can get in touch with SCF at joseph@scf.org.sg. Hope to see you on the water soon!

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About Hun Boon

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