Dragons fire up the crowds

    The Times of Tonbridge’s Neill Barston swapped his notebook for a drum and a paddle to take part in this year’s Dragon Boat Race

    Tonbridge Dragon Boat Race 2016 3

    There’s a huge buzz of excitement as our dragon boat thunders into action on the Medway for our first race.

    With crowds lining the riverbanks, this is our chance to shine in this highly entertaining and colourful Tonbridge extravaganza.

    Having answered the call to join the team representing homelessness charity The Bridge Trust, I wonder what I’m letting myself in for.

    But there’s no room for hesitation as our 16-strong crew, sporting matching T-shirts and outlandish blue wigs, square up for the first of three sprints for a coveted place in the final.

    Other team costumes range from a dizzying array of superheroes through to Edwardian gentlemen and Hawaiian dancers.

    The fourth annual Dragon Boat Race staged by Tonbridge Town Team is living up to its purpose of combining a fun-filled day with the serious side of raising much-needed charity funds.

    Taking up my role as drummer, I attempt to strike a steady pace against our eager opposition. Worryingly, those towards the rear of the sturdy dragon boat, with its striking carved figurehead, struggle to hear my beats over the cheering crowds.

    There’s little between the teams as we head towards the final stretch of river. But as arms begin to tire, my team falls short of our competitors and we post a mid-table time of 1 min 8 seconds. Those 60 seconds felt like a lifetime in the midst of the action, but it’s great fun.

    For our third and final clash, I exchange my drumming perch at the prow for a place in the crew to paddle against the Tonbridge Lions.Having traded some good-natured banter with our opponents, the stakes are now just a
    little higher.

    Despite a decent effort, this isn’t to be our day and the Lions beat us to the finishing line.

    Our Captain, Adrian Hill, said: “It’s been a fantastic day, with such a great atmosphere and attitude from all the teams. This is a massively important event for us as it is a great opportunity to talk about the work that we do.”

    The final itself is a three-way battle between Boars with Oars, Demelza House, and the decidedly dapper Round Table in their jaunty bowler hats.

    There’s barely daylight between them as they cross the finishing line, and there is a wait of several minutes before the judges emerge to announce the Round Table as victors.

    This prompts a university graduation-style celebration as bowler hats are flung in the air and champagne is broken out to round off a great day’s entertainment.

    Toby Butler, former Chairman of the Round Table, said: “We’re so excited to have won.

    “When our drummer started reading the Financial Times earlier on, I wondered if we had made the right choice of team, but after coming fourth last year it was great to be in the final and win.”

    Howard Porter, Chairman of Tonbridge Town Team said: “It’s great that the sun brought so  many people out to enjoy the dragon boats, as well as seeing  the farmers markets and Medieval Fayre over the weekend.

    This is exactly what we are aiming for with our events across the year, and it is great to see organisations such  as the Lions and Round Table doing so well from the event.”

    It is really good that thousands of pounds are being raised  for charities and everyone has thoroughly enjoyed  it.”

    Tonbridge Flood Warden Carl Lewis, who represented Tonbridge Lions, felt it had been an excellent day of racing that had helped raise significant amount of funds for charity.

    He said: “It was a fantastic day. Well organised by the Town Team, The Tonbridge Lions marshalls and the Dragonboat company. It was great to meet so many like minded people who are interested in their local community, and hear about their charities and groups. The local companies were winners too, with Beyond The Grounds cafe having a very busy day. It was a delightful dragonboat day.”