Paddling hard

by | September 30, 2014

Michael Chia joined dragon boating in 2013 and today, he holds his own during training with rowers half his age.

Eleanor Yap


Michael Chia out dragon boating.

During Michael Chia’s secondary school days, he used to hijack a sampan (wooden boat) occasionally that was parked each time at the same location and was barely used, and went out on the lake for several hours. Though today his days of hijacking boats are long gone, his love for the water continues to stay strong.

At the age of 63, he is a part of the U Sport Active Agers Dragon Boat team, where he enjoys competing and bonding with team members who are also below 50. Currently retired as an accounting executive due to eye problems, he hopes to go back to the workforce next year.

Ageless Online talks to the father of one about staying active and why other seniors should not write-off dragon boating:


When you joined U Live, you actually started out in the photography interest group. How did that extend to dragon boating?

I joined U Live three ago. Around the same time, Golden Eye (photography interest group) attracted me. I thought that through their activities, I could share ideas and techniques with other photographers and learn from them. I was very active there and every outing I would go with them.

The person in charge of the group suggested I join the G.L.A.M. (Good Life Ambassador Mentoring) programme where I could empower other seniors to be active and join interest groups. In March 2013, I came across the U Live magazine and saw an ad that was recruiting people to join dragon boating and race in the People’s Association (PA) Paddle Championship 2013 (which would combine the teams of U Live and U Sports). I decided there was nothing to lose and joined. I rowed in the sampan in my secondary days, so how different could it be?

In the beginning, I joined as a leisure rower and later because I enjoyed it, I upgraded to the competition team where I get to race once a year of a distance of 300m in the PA PaddleFest (formerly known as PA Paddle Championship and which has Active Agers races).


Tell me about your first time dragon boating.

It was a different experience to what I had thought it would be. I had to work not as an individual but as a team. I found it hard to catch up with the rest of the members as some have rowed for a long time. However, after half an hour, I managed to catch up but I still didn’t know the right technique to use.

After which, I got the usual muscle aches. After a few weekends, we went for PA Paddle Championship race in April. During the race, when the whistle blew, we went haywire and we were out of sync for the first few seconds. We didn’t do well and didn’t make it into the finals, however, we managed to qualify for the plate finals (for those who dropped out in the finals).


Are you the oldest in your team? What is the age range of your team members?

During the time when I started the sport, there was a woman who was two to three years older than me. Her husband and I were the second oldest. During this year, there is now someone older – a 67-year-old man who is from U Live. The youngest is below 18. The team comprises of a number of people in different ages but the rules for the Active Agers team is that at least five are above 50 years of age.


How often is your training?

Training is every Saturday afternoon from 3.30pm to 6.30pm as some team members work in the mornings. One hour is for warm-up exercises to loosen the muscles and it sometimes includes jogging, and two hours is for training in the water. If competing, a month before a race, there is an extra three hours of training on Sunday mornings.


I understand you had eye problems. I assume all is well?

Six years ago, I had a torn retina and did laser surgery. However, about two years ago, I felt very uncomfortable in my eyes for a month so I went to see a specialist. I decided to quit work and not add any more stress to my eyes. It was mainly due to pressure and was advised by the doctor to have a longer rest period and thank goodness, it wasn’t another tear. After the initial surgery, I have been using special glasses so as not to stress the eye. Everything is ok now.


So why do you enjoy dragon boating and competing?

I especially like the group bonding and it is a good form of exercise. With competing, there is a goal and at our age, at least we can achieve it!


Chia also enjoys taking photography and gardening.

Do you supplement your dragon boat training with weight training or running, etc?

No, as I don’t have the time and I am also a bit lazy.


Has your team won any awards?

During the second PA PaddleFest race this year, as a result of our timing in the heats, we qualified for the finals. We came in fifth and our timing was very good. We were not far from the Champion’s timing. If we repeated our timing in the heats in the final, we would have come in second.

In our team, we have the Leisure team and also the Competitive team (which has won a number of medals), which you have the option to join when there is an Active Agers category. The Active Agers team should be able to win something hopefully next year.


So why don’t you want to race more and join the Competitive team?

The Competitive teams race in longer distance races and the members are much younger and stronger.


Were you always active when younger?

In my school days, I was very active. I did all kinds of sports including soccer, hockey, softball and cricket, except for table tennis, badminton and basketball. I think from young I built up the foundation to keep active.


How long do you think you will continue in the sport?

I will stay for as long as I can manage it.


What would you say to other seniors who might be keen on picking up dragon boating?

Dragon boating is not strenuous as what people might think. It is quite enjoyable and can build up one’s health. You also get to mix around with people the same age and younger.


What else keeps you busy?

A year ago, I joined U Live Eco Garden Club and I stay active in its gardening activities. In Malaysia where I grew up, we had our own gardens and farm so the interest group tends to look at me as an important member. In the Community in Bloom Challenge by NParks every year, we got the gold two straight years. The garden is located at Downtown East, beside Block J. Also, I am still doing photography with Golden Eye. I plan to become a Park Ambassador under U Live to take care of mangroves in different parts of Singapore.

Usually, last Saturday morning in a month, I am involved in Eco Garden. Photography is as and when if there is a festival or special occasion and we need to shoot the scenes. Shooting usually occurs in the late evenings or afternoons.


Why is being active important to you?

Because I get that extra burst of energy when I am active. Secondly, it is of interest. It makes me stay healthy and allows me to meet people. I also get to improve my knowledge in gardening and photography.


His crane photograph that nabbed him the distinction of "Best Picture of the Day" in his first outing.

Any interesting stories that involve your activities?

When I joined Golden Eye, I went to my first outing in Sungei Buloh. The group gives out the “Best Picture of the Day” distinction during these outings and I won it on that first outing! The image is of a crane being reflected off the water. Looks like a pretty woman looking at the mirror. Most of outings I have come on top. This has given me a lot of confidence in my skills.


Is bungee jumping in your cards?

No. I am afraid that my heart can’t take the pressure.


1 Comment

  1. Veronica Ang Wan Hwa

    Photography is his No. 1 passion. He travels widely and captured countless, fantastic and gorgeous pictures and compiled them into a beautiful master piece album. In order to keep his precious album intact, I carefully flipped through page by page with admiration.
    He also took part in the gardening competition.


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