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Dragon Slayers: Uschi and Florian Mirus of the LBC

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German transplants Uschi and Florian Mirus paddle all year round with LBC, but dragon-boat season is still their favourite time of year. Elizabeth Kerr reports

Sitting at Fuel in ifc Mall, Uschi Mirus seems the perfect German: tall, blonde, and a fit paddler with a delicate, lilting accent on her “poor” English. “Please, go ahead and correct my mistakes, okay,” she jokes between sips of tea. “I’m so jealous of Scandinavians. They start learning English early and they really get to know it. Germans actually started quite late when I was young.”

You’d never guess considering how quick Uschi is with a joke, especially ones about the myth of German efficiency and the national drama that is Berlin’s new airport. For the 11-year Discovery Bay resident, the ferry is really not a big deal.

What is a big deal is the work Uschi and her husband, Florian, have done to make the German dragon-boat team one of DB’s strongest. Now in its seventh season, the German Dragons has placed second to the Disneyland team two years running. “The Disneyland boat has all these young, athletic guys and girls on it,” Uschi says. She looks pleased. She should.

Passionate about paddling

Uschi picked up the boating bug in DB in 2013 when the then German Dragons’ organiser demanded she join, and after a rather comical beginning – “this is a paddle” – she and Florian earned their stripes and have been running the team since 2015. Come June, the Dragons are looking at racing in DB, Deep Water Bay, Mui Wo and maybe even at the main event in Victoria Harbour.

“I love the atmosphere of dragonboat racing. You paddle out to the starting line and it’s absolutely quiet. No one talks. Everyone’s sitting there concentrating, waiting for the start. It’s a moment,” Uschi describes. “Then everyone goes full power – for two minutes, give or take. It’s amazing.”

The German Dragons rent their boat from Lantau Boat Club (LBC), which is how Uschi and Florian’s “passion for outrigger paddling” started. They enjoyed their time on the water so much, they wanted it to extend beyond dragon boat season.

These days, the couple helps run the LBC Paddling Section, Florian with maintenance and Uschi with organising events and races.

Paddling with LBC is competitive, and it certainly has its rewards, like the family atmosphere and the opportunity to do some good (more on that later). The club holds training sessions and social events, and competes against other local clubs throughout the year – and once you’re experienced you can book an outrigger canoe to use at any time.

“The LBC also offers dragon-boat training sessions as corporate events,” says Uschi. “Dragonboat paddling is great for any kind of team building because it only works if the whole team paddles in synch.”

But if dragon boating is a real adrenaline rush – a sprint rather than a marathon – what is it that got Uschi so hooked on outrigger canoeing? For one, the leisurely, connective trips around Hong Kong’s 200 islands. She particularly likes the spots around Peng Chau and Disneyland, and paddling from DB to Mui Wo for lunch.

Uschi describes the turbulent waters around Lamma as a “washing machine” but she waxes lyrical about paddling experiences around Hong Kong Island. “I mean… if you see photos of yourself in the boat, the six paddlers in this tiny boat, and in the background is ifc or the convention centre or whatever… It’s brilliant. You don’t get to look around when you’re racing in a dragon boat.”

Challenged by the pollution

The opportunity to look around while paddling does have a downside – you get to see Hong Kong’s marine pollution at first hand. “When you do water sports and you see all this plastic in the ocean it raises your awareness,” Uschi says.

Last year, LBC lent Jonny Haines and Tim Tait’s Lantau Paddle for plastic awareness a hand by linking it with the club’s annual Dolphin Quest Challenge around Lantau.

“We changed our Dolphin Quest Challenge giveaway from a souvenir t-shirt to a bamboo toothbrush. People loved it!” Uschi says. “Our plan for this year is again to hand out something which will give people an idea how to reduce plastic waste. Maybe by picking one little thing you can change in your household, you can do better ecologically.”

Of the Dolphin Quest Challenge, in which LBC invites paddlers from around Hong Kong to raise awareness of the plight of local Chinese White Dolphins and other marine life, Uschi says: “It’s not a race, but at 72 kilometres, it’s still a challenge. It’s an encounter; a gathering that people without any race experience can be part of too.

“It’s also an awareness builder for Hong Kong’s vanishing ecology.”

Happy in DB

It’s no surprise that Uschi is passionate about the local environment – she has made Hong Kong (DB to be precise) her home since 2008, first settling here when her two kids were pre-schoolers.

“We like it,” she says simply of DB life. “The lifestyle is quite Western, there are playgrounds, great nature and all that. It’s really nice.” And that ferry truly isn’t an issue. “I’m used to waiting for trains. If you miss a train in Munich it’s 20 minutes, so I don’t worry about the ferry,” she says with a laugh.

“It’s a very close community and to take in all the advantages you take the disadvantages (like feeling a bit isolated) too. It’s safe. It’s easy to become a member of the community. Without the kids I might not have moved there but I have no regrets.” Uschi even got her first dog, ever, in DB.

The former IT professional also took advantage of her time here to get a degree in business psychology, and later certification as an organisational coach. But it was in intercultural training she found her vocation.

“Fifteen years ago, when we first moved from Germany – to Singapore – we did this ‘country training,’ where they started with stereotypes about what Singaporeans are,” she explains with a hearty eye-roll. “Then they spent the rest of the training telling us how to deal with these stereotypes. When we moved there, we expected to find these stereotypes. But we didn’t; it was useless. The training I’m offering now, as a freelancer with relocation companies, is more about cultural awareness.”

Busy with her work, her family, the LBC and German Dragons, Uschi has no plans to head back to Germany any time soon, but she and Florian own a single-paddler rig, which they hope to find a new home for one day.

“We’re thinking of moving someplace where we can still practise our paddling. Maybe in southern Germany near the Alps,” she finishes. “If we had to give up paddling now, we’d both really miss it.”

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