Fitness tips from a New Zealand skier turned Hong Kong dragon boater, canoeist and runner

Jeremy Young’s training regime clears his mind and gives him energy that carries through his whole day. He tells us about paddling twice a day, surf skiing, and cross training in the gym

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 6:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 June, 2016, 11:07am

What do downhill skiing and dragon boating have in common? If you ask Jeremy Young, quite a lot. Since moving to Hong Kong seven years ago, the former professional ski coach has applied his slalom skills to the water with surprising success.

“Both [skiing and dragon boating] require efficient use of your body and when you get the combination right it becomes fluid,” explains Young, 50, who used to be on the New Zealand skiing demonstration team. “There’s a wonderful feeling when the boat is all in rhythm; when everyone’s committed and putting in the same amount of energy, and the boat just seems to glide – it’s much like that feeling of gliding through a turn on the slopes.”

Young paddles almost every day, often twice a day. When it’s not dragon boating with his team, the Stormy Dragons, it’s outrigger canoeing or surf skiing. On top of that, he runs on Hong Kong’s trails as often as he can.

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“I keep in pretty good shape. There’s a few more aches and pains these days, but I’m mentally stronger. When racing now I find I can make a small mistake and not let it worry me, whereas when I was younger I would blow the rest of my race.”

His regime gives him “energy that carries through my whole day” which he brings to his position as chief marketing officer for Sun Life Financial. “When I’m on the water in the morning I think about the day ahead, and in the evening, I use paddling to clear my mind.”

Marketing is creative, yet you’re technical in your choice of sporting pursuits. What’s the connection?

I think the creativity links back to my coaching – knowing something technically and then being able to figure out how I can help people to get better without getting all “technical” with them, well, that requires creativity.

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Just how hard is it to dragon boat?

Dragon boating looks pretty straightforward, but it can actually be quite technical. A lot happens in a short time. And there’s a big difference between a strong paddling stroke and just flapping around in the water. A lot of the power comes from your core. Getting everything in sync as a team, of course, is also a huge component. The more efficient you are, the faster the boat will go.

Something a rookie wouldn’t know about the sport?

Everyone along the boat has a very different role: there are 18 paddlers, plus a drummer and the sweep [the steersman]. The first two rows are about timing and getting the rhythm right. After that is the “engine room” – the heavier, stronger, more powerful guys. At the end of the boat you have lighter paddlers. But they must be very good. By the time the water gets to them it’s been chewed up a lot and it’s hard to get value in your stroke.

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So where do you sit?

Either in the very front or near the back.

Being a one-sided sport, do you only get muscles on one side?

There is certainly a propensity for that, but personally I paddle on both sides, plus I outrigger and surf ski and cross train at the gym, so that helps me to keep balanced. And I still race downhill skiing.

That’s something else interesting about dragon boating – just because you’re right-handed doesn’t mean you’re a right-side paddler; it’s whatever feels most natural. I’m a right-side paddler – I’m physically better on my right side, but I’m technically better on my left.

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What are you thinking about when paddling?

I should say winning, but in reality that’s an outcome. I’m thinking about not letting my teammates down, getting off the boat knowing there was nothing else I could have done to help us do better.

Most races are a few hundred metres, lasting only a few minutes at most. How fit do you have to be?

Really fit. Races are won or lost in the final 50 metres – because boats get slower, fitness isn’t there or timing gets out of whack and people panic. You can be a really fit runner, but you may not be “paddle fit”. In a boat you use your whole body, and people struggle towards the end to keep their huff and puff going.

You are watching a 50-man wooden boat, four of them racing each other, in perfect synchronisation. It’s mesmerising.
Jeremy Young

What has your dragon boating brought to your life?

Some great friendships; I’ve met people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met. To be still competing at my age is satisfying. And then there’s the travel. But I’ve also really enjoyed gaining an appreciation for the cultural aspects of Hong Kong. Earlier this month we had a race with the Chai Wan fishermen. You are watching a 50-man wooden boat, four of them racing each other, in perfect synchronisation. It’s mesmerising. That, and the fact that I find myself jumping out of bed at 5am to go out on the water. It’s brought back a lot of passion to my life.