KOTA KINABALU: For the thousands who thronged to watch the 26th Sabah Dragon Boat race, they were either weekend day out for the family or to provide moral support to the participants.
Vehicles were parked on the roadsides stretching from the City mosque at Likas up to the roundabout at Jalan Istiadat.
Despite the area already being jam-packed with hordes of people, latecomers were not even deterred by the sheer number of people present and were determined to witness the annual dragon boat race.
The event was officiated by the Head of State Tun Datuk Seri Panglima Hj Juhar Hj Mahiruddin.
Also present were Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Dr Yee Moh Chai representing the Chief Minister, Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun, Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir, Sabah Tourism Promotion Board chairman Dato’ Seri Tengku Zainal Adlin and Sabah Chinese Cultural Association (SCCA) president Datuk Chau Tet On.
Those who participated in the dragon race, the title was fought not only for the team, but for the honour of the districts they represented and that of their families.
Ruwan Salim, 26, has in the past years participated in the teenager category and was at the scene yesterday to give his undivided support to the team from Kampung Giling, Tuaran. The team was vying for the Chief Minister’s Trophy.
Ruwan and his family attend the event every year without fail and were blissfully enjoying themselves watching the races and having a picnic at the same time.
“Many of our Bajau people from Mengkabung came (for the dragon boat race) and we have many relatives here too.”
Although the dragon boat race is traditionally a Chinese culture, the sport has attracted other members of other races to take part.
“The dragon boat race is a sporting event. We are fishermen, we row our boats, so it’s part of our tradition,” Ruwan said.
“If we win, it will be a victory for our village and our families,” he added.
Manisah Suaid, 50, came with the Inai Kiara Mengkabung team to offer her support to his brother and cousins who participated in the race.
Last year, the team won the Head of State’s trophy and they were back this year to defend the title and also to take part in the under-20 category.
Manisah, who came from Buansa, Mengkabung, said her family members join the race every year, and have even gone as far as Sandakan for similar races.
“We like coming here because we are ‘orang laut’ (sea gypsies) living near to the sea coast.
“We catch shrimps or go for boat rowing. So wherever a race is held, we will be there to provide moral support.”
Meanwhile, Siti Burbaya Abraham, 16, was spotted relaxing with her cousins at the dragon boat race.
The girls had earlier hopped into their relative’s car and drove all the way from Kota Belud at 7am to offer support to the Kampung Darau team.
“It is fun to watch the races because it is not often that we get to watch such a spectacle.
“It’s the best,” she beamed.
Frankie Hiew, 28, also an avid supporter of the dragon boat race, has consecutively attended the races for the past three years.
Although it was extremely tough to find for a parking space at the venue, the crowd has remained the same in number, year after year, he said.
“Not every place in Malaysia has dragon boat races. They only have the races in Sabah and Penang, and it is a joyous event that should be preserved,” Hiew said when he was spotted enjoying a snack with his girlfriend Kah Yee, 27.
He also commented that the event was mostly attended by the bumiputra people while the Chinese only made up a small percentage of the spectators.