Francis Ng has been bitten by the dragon boating bug and not only teaches various teams, but also is a coxswain and a rower.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Water sports were always something Francis Ng enjoyed. When the 64-year-old was in National Service, he shared he was involved in all forms including diving, sailing and kayaking. When he went into the Army for two-and-a-half years, he was a physical training instructor and performed lifeguard duties.
After working for MINDEF, he joined Outward Bound in 1974 as an instructor and taught participants rock climbing, sailing, canoeing and cutter rowing for five years. But, it was when he went on to Sentosa Development Corp (SDC) as a water sports activity instructor, conducting courses in kayaking, scuba diving and windsurfing, was when he got bitten by the dragon boating bug. In 1979, as there was a dragon boat race to be held in Sentosa, he and 12 others from his company who had never dragon boated before volunteered to get the loaned boats from the Kallang Water Sports Centre and row them to Sentosa!
“That was the first time I tried dragon boating. I found it more challenging than most sports as you need the whole team to get the boat moving. It took about two to three hours to get the boats to Sentosa as after one boat, we then would take a bus back to Kallang and bring the second boat across. It was quite fun,” said the father of three, who is also a grandfather to one.
Trial & error
That year that he got hooked, he decided to form a SDC team made up of members from its club, and their instructor was none other than Francis! “It was a matter of trial and error. At the time, there were no available training for trainers and since I was a Sea Scout and had sea sports’ training, I just taught!”
The team of about 20 members trained in Sentosa on Saturdays and Sundays, with the more serious members making up the core team. In their first competitive race held in the open sea in the East Coast, the team came in fourth in one of the hits but crashed into another boat during the second hit, clocking in a dismal time. Recalling the event, Francis shared: “We used old army jackets that the army boatmen used as life jackets and they had to be blown up. But because they ended up being so bulky, some used them and some didn’t. It wasn’t compulsory at that time [as it is now].”
Francis handled the team’s training for six years after which he joined SDC’s marketing department and stopped teaching them. However, he would still dragon boat with other teams either as a rower if short-handed or as a trainer. In 1984, he started the Singapore Scout Association’s Kingfisher Sea Scout team, which still exists today and Francis is its volunteer trainer and/or rower.
After leaving SDC in 1990, he decided it was time to choose semi-retirement and started his own company teaching photography and taking photographs during special occasions. However, dragon boating still remained close to his heart – on the weekends, he would dragon boat with the Kingfisher team and participated in other Scout Association water activities. In 2005, he reduced his role as he wanted to travel and take photographs, and three years later, he gave up his own company.
A wanted man
In 2009, there was a ruling that coxswains (those who steer a dragon boat) had to be certified, so Francis decided to take the training and continue dragon boating. “From then on, more people called for my services. I was doing more dragon boating from 2009 onwards,” he shared.
Not much has changed from then to now. Francis is still very much involved with dragon boating. Each month, he is involved with four to five teams including several People’s Association (PA) Water-Venture teams such as the Punggol Coast and Nee Soon South, however on peak season or a competitive race held locally or overseas (such as Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia) is around the corner, he would be involved in at least 10 teams, either as a rower, coach or coxswain.
On top of that, as a registered dragon boat trainer with the Ministry of Education, he also conducts dragon boat orientation programmes with primary and secondary schools during the weekends. “Sometimes, some of the students in the programme would come up to me and ask if I taught their parents and are sometimes surprised that a senior is teaching them!” he laughed.
His teaching style is simple with the youths as well as the adults – not let them suffer too much as “they won’t come back”. Francis added: “I try to work at people’s pace but still push them hard or else they won’t break the barrier.” He said that if half a team is made up of newbies and the other half are seasoned rowers, he would get the seasoned ones to sit in front so the others can copy their strokes. When getting the team ready for a competitive race, he makes sure to prepare everyone for every role including a pacer, a person who sets the pace for the team and is responsible for synchronising his stroke with others. The pacer is chosen based on his or her attendance and the results of the individual’s time trials, he said.
“It is interesting seeing a team who didn’t know each other and during a usual two-hour training session, they get to work together and bond,” he shared. “I feel dragon boating has given me self-motivation to keep fit.” The sport has also opened up his social networks as he has met many people at the different races.
And it is not just youths and adults he trains, he even coaches a team from the PAssion WaVe@Marina Bay with a majority of its members over the age of 50. “Sometimes I bring some of the members to my other teams on loan during races.”
However, it is being a rower, which he enjoys the most. Besides spending most of his time dragon boating, he also occasionally jogs 10k and kayaks.
Asked how long he plans to be involved in the challenging sport, he shared that he met a European man in Boracay, Philippines, who was 75 years old and still rowing and who has given him much inspiration. Francis remarked – “That means that I have another good 10 more years to go!”