The Taytay Boys, as the PCKF National Team is popularly known, have dominated local dragon boat races in the short time they’ve been on the scene, giving established greats like the Army, Fleet Marines, and Boracay All-Stars some worthy competition. We interviewed PCKF Head Coach Leonora Escollante to find out more about these boy (and soon, girl) wonders.

Coach Len, can you give us a short background on the Taytay Boys?

The majority of the team lives in Taytay, which is why we nicknamed them “The Taytay Boys.” Most of them were recruited by PCKF as early as 9 years old, to be trained as canoe-kayak and dragon boat athletes. Recruits who join past 14 years of age are trained as dragon boat paddlers only, because one of the first things I implemented when I became coach was the age limit for recruitment. In canoe-kayak, it’s important that the skill of balance is developed as early as possible.

Because we recruit them at such a young age, they also receive allowances and other subsidies, as well as development of good moral character and sportsmanship.

What are training sessions like?

We do intensive training around 6-8 months before events. During these periods, we initially paddle two to three times a day. Three to four months before the races, training sessions are increased to four times a day, every day. The intensity of each training session varies—for example, if we’re doing long-distance paddling, we start with a light warm-up, while sprints require a more intense warm-up. When it’s off-season, we paddle only every other day.

For cross training, we do swimming, weights, and different running programs like long-distance runs, uphill training, or sprints. We avoid pool paddling because using the normal blade in still water poses the risk of shoulder injury, unless you’re naturally very powerful or you’re using a narrow blade specifically for pool paddling. If our paddlers overexert themselves in pool paddling and their inner muscles aren’t ready, the chance of injury is too great.

Why are the Taytay Boys so strong? What’s your secret to beating all the other established strong teams?

Kaya nga sikreto, di ba?

[Laughs.] Well, the only secret here is discipline. If they train consistently and follow the program, walang problema. The reason we have to emphasize discipline is because, in my experience with Filipino paddlers, we tend to rebel when we start to feel, “OK, I’m strong enough.” Then it escalates to disrespecting the routine and the coach, where they start to say, “Eh mas magaling ako diyan eh!” They forget that it was because of their discipline, their trust in their coach, and trust in the training programs that they became strong in the first place. And of course, being a good athlete and a good coach are entirely different things—just look at Joe Lipa, who isn’t a basketball player, but is a great coach.

This kind of attitude stands in contrast to German and Chinese athletes, whom I’ve observed are naturally disciplined and mindful of authority. That’s the kind of attitude we try to develop in our players. Kahit anong galing mo, kung hindi ka disiplinado, walang mangyayari sa iyo. Yun lang ang sikreto. [Laughs.]

What advice can you give other teams?

Maselan ako magturo ng paddling. Sa laki ng mata ko, kita ko lahat yung pangit ang stroke. Kung hindi ka umayos, ibababa kita. Kung pangit ang technique mo sa dragon boat, baka pwede ka na lang mag-isa sa kayak [laughs].

First, develop your technique so that you can last the whole heat. Hindi kayang labanan ng power ang technique. Power only lasts for around 100 to 150 meters, about the same distance as your starts will cover. Even if you’re naturally powerful, you cannot sustain the entire racecourse and a quality last kick if your boat does not adhere to a uniform technique.

Second, synchronization is so important to dragon boat because unlike other sports, where different athletes have different roles and movements, paddlers have to move perfectly as one. Kahit gaano ka kalakas, kung hindi ka sabay, kumokontra ka sa glide ng bangka. Even kicking [foot lock] is important. There are some who kick on the center, some on the side. That also has to be uniform among all paddlers. Leaning and moving back, twisting, even breathing—it all has to be at the same time. If you don’t aim to perfect that, don’t expect a very good result with your time.

Any future plans?

Of course, our goal has always been to compete in international races, but we’ve been preparing by focusing on local races muna. Even if we’re taking it slowly and exposing the boys to different races gradually, palakas sila ng palakas. They’re unstoppable. Look at their performance at the last Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival, no other team managed to outpace them. We also have plans to let the Taytay Girls compete in more races, as well, like during the last Philippine National Games.


The Taytay Boys hold their individual time trials.

The Taytay Boys and Girls are participating in the ICF Championships in Poland on August 28 this year. We’re about to have time trials to see who makes it to the line-up, and that will only be determined if we’re satisfied with their overall time in the first place.