By Jigger J. Jerusalem
AFTER bagging medals left and right in international races, Iligan City’s Team Bakunawa maintained its position as one of the country’s best paddling groups after it grabbed the top spot in the second dragon boat competition held here Sunday.
Fresh from the series of victories abroad, Team Bakunawa’s Bibicows bested other paddlers in the final round of the 2nd Motor Ace Kagay-an Dragon Boat Fiesta Race’s mixed 200-meter standard boat category at the Cagayan River.
The Bibicows won with one minute and 2.72 seconds time, followed by SJ Banatti, one minute and 2.88 seconds, Braveheart, one minute and 3.76 seconds, and CGY Oro-A, one minute and 3.93 seconds.
SJ Banatti is from Negros Oriental while both Braveheart and CGY-Oro A are from Cagayan de Oro.
To be able to compete in other categories, Bakunawa formed two groups, the Bibicows and the Titocows. In Sunday’s race, the team also won silver in the women’s small boat category.
Bakunawa team captain Arjun’a Actub said the race was a close fight as all the competing teams have the same speed and stamina.
“We didn’t mind if we placed first or second. It was amazing as the race was a tight one,” Actub said.
The group’s latest win is just another feather on its cap after competing in the Kadayawan Festival in Davao City recently, and a series of triumphs in China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.
Bakunawa’s first taste of international victory was in Guangzhou, China where they won a silver medal in June 2017.
Right after that China race, they flew to Hongkong to grab a gold medal. A few weeks after that, Thailand came calling and once again where they snatched another gold medal.
“In Thailand we played with professional teams and that pushed us harder to reach that level,” Actub said.
The Penang races in Malaysia gave them bronze in December 2017, and silver in December the following year.
This year, the team started training early to compete in Changwon, South Korea in May, where they went home with two gold medals in the 200-meter and 500-meter categories.
Another stint in Beijing, China in June 8, gave the group a silver medal in the 200-meter race.
In the recently held Kadayawan Festival, Team Bakunawa garnered three golds in the 200-meter small boat, 200-meter standard boat, 300-meter small boat categories.
Not resting on their laurels is another key factor that has kept Team Bakunawa on that winning edge.
“We train three times a week, at early in the morning. We also have gym training. This is in preparation for the race in Shanghai (China) this September,” Actub said.
It was ironic, he said, that during their early days the team’s only goal was to compete in Metro Manila’s regatta but they ended up joining international races instead.
“We didn’t expect to reach this far. Our only aim when we started in 2013 was to reach Manila,” Actub said.
“We have competed in other countries but we have yet to join a race in Manila,” he added.
At present, the team has 30 members consisting of students, fresh college graduates, professionals, and businesspeople.
Actub said the sport is an equalizer as anyone who has a penchant for paddling can join. Their youngest member is 13 years old, while the eldest is in his 40s.
When it was formed in 2013, Actub said the team was not really serious in taking their skill to the next level until they competed in an international dragon boat race in Palawan in November 2016 competing with teams from the United States, Germany, Japan, and other countries.
In that competition, Bakunawa won 2 golds and a silver.
Actub said that inspired them to push the envelope, although along the way they had to hurdle some challenges, foremost of which was the funding for their national and international competitions.
“We have to solicit from local officials, from companies, from friends. We even have to sell t-shirts just so we could raise funds for our expenses,” he said.
Actub said their victories will serve as their motivation to try harder and to make the country proud in the international dragon boat racing circuit.
“It’s a different feeling when you compete representing the Philippines. We have goosebumps every time we march bringing the Philippine flag to these races,” he added.