Ladies of the Lake

英譯 English Translation Tanja Wessels 中譯 Chinese Translation ALICE kok
圖 Photos Eduardo Martins
The Badas Sports Association enters an exclusively female team in this year’s dragon boat comp
Born almost four years ago, the Badas Sports Association entered an exclusively female team in this year’s dragon boat competition 
 
At the Nautical Centre of Praia Grande, the races are unfolding in a sequence so fast, that in only one minute they are over. It is 60 seconds that, seen from a distance, finish very quickly, sometimes too fast, but that when experienced from inside the most famous boat of this Chinese sports tradition, assume a totally different temporal proportion. 
 
This is according to Catarina Cortesão, one of the Badas Sports Association rowers. Well-accustomed to the competition, Catarina describes the fleeting foray into the watery mirror of Nam Van as “a minute of great tension and great responsibility, where one always has the temptation to look where the other teams are, but mustn’t lose concentration”.
 
In the ample space on the wooden decking reserved for the teams, Badas claim their space. Around them, competing teams prepare themselves, piling up paddles on the ground along with backpacks and sacks that multiply, seemingly to infinity. With so many props and trappings, moving around is not easy. To this small area of organised chaos, a heavy atmosphere is added, where a heady mix of sweat and humidity grows more muffled with the red awnings overhead. 
 
“Last year was even worse”, says Joana Seabra, a member of the Badas team.
 
The Badas rowers prepare for the warm up, but there is a slight waiting time that precedes it. An opportune time for Joana Cal, the captain, to assemble the team and decide the positions that the athletes should occupy in the boat during the first race.
 
 “I have to play with the weights of the athletes and make sure that they all have the opportunity to row,” she stresses. 
 
Catarina Cortesão and Joana Seabra explain that for the first race, the strongest athletes are saved “so that they can give their all in the second race.”
 
For the last time as a team, the 16 athletes shout out the Badas motto before the 12 crewmembers enter the area reserved for competitors only. One of the rowers who stays behind, Lou Men Kei, who says she is “very excited and nervous” to see her colleagues advance to the starting point, while she cheers them on, watching on the giant screens nearby.
 
One by one, from the drummer to the helmsman, the athletes take their positions, waiting for the moment to show what they are really worth. Before entering the boat, and with the help of the oar, the captain sprinkles the dragonhead on the boat, in one of the many rituals involved in the regattas.
 
All aboard, they leave the quay and in a measured effort, as if in a last test for glory, powerfully advance to the starting line. From the moment the boat is positioned in the starting zone “it’s all very fast”, says Diana Massada. 
 
From the benches and the shore, we can distinguish the boats taking their positions and, as the teams are announced, the oars are erected with the eagerness of victory.
 
“We can only leave when the inspectors see that we are all aligned, which is sometimes difficult because of the wind and the movement of the water,” Diana explains. 
 
The starting gun is preceded by a brief moment of silence and even before the echo of the warning sound reaches the wooden deck, the rising waters begin to distinguish themselves; the trepidation pulsed by a powerful start by the rowers. After eight deep and short strokes, the boat begins to rise and quickly reaches the desired speed. Another dozen quick moves and the boat crosses the finish line.
 
On the return to the pier, visibly tired, the athletes leave the boat, again one by one and repeat their team motto: “Are we happy? Are we sexy? Badas, Badas, Badas!”
 
“We managed to finish, we didn’t flip the boat and we were not disqualified,” says Andreia Ramo who is competing for the first time. 
 
When the math is done, Badas finished the first race in one minute and three seconds, putting them in fourth place, still in with a chance of winning a place in the semi-finals of the Women’s Regatta in Small Boats.
 
As the athletes gather to take a group photograph before the second race, they are joined by Ha-Gau, their coach from previous years. This year, remarkably, the team has been training without a coach. 
 
Just before the rowers move back into the starting zone, Simon Fat, former manager of the athletes, also approaches the group. For six years he organized Badas and, although this year he also has another team under his command, he is wearing a shirt that read “Badas Sports Association”. 
 
Before letting the athletes proceed, he gathers them for a pep talk, as if the connection of many years had never been broken: “Relax, enjoy the race and do not worry if you kill someone,” he says jokingly.
 
Lourdes Gaspar, the team’s drummer, believes that she was invited to her position because she’s “very light”, which helps the team to not overload the front of the boat. Seated next to the head of the dragon, Lourdes tries to find a middle ground between her own rhythm and that of the rowers, allowing them to maintain coordination. Standing in front of her colleagues, she screams with all the strength in her soul to keep them going: “In the last practice I was almost left without a voice,” she says laughing.
 
Seated facing Lourdes, but at the opposite end of the boat, is Swing, the helmsman. Her position allows the ideal perspective to align the rowers and to correct their position, by means of one or two orders: “focus” or “all together”. Swing says that last year the team was disqualified for having deviated from the course. 
 
Taking to the helm for the first time this year and having started training just two months earlier, she is a bit anxious.
 
“This year I’m nervous and I feel a lot of pressure on me to keep the boat straight. I have to focus on a point, a building or a light, because the force on both sides is different so I have to tune the boat,” she explains.
 
In the second race, Badas cross the finish line, two fragile seconds away from triumph and glory, in a memorable and perhaps unexpected second position.