It’s the decision Bruce Seymour wishes he didn’t have to make.

The Hong Kong Dragon Run is one of the most esteemed races on the global calendar. Competitive and popular among paddlers in equal parts, it’s long been recognised as one of the sport’s biggest events.

But in the face of COVID-19, its immediate future is uncertain.

And for Seymour, the race director, that needs to be resolved sooner rather than later.

“The 31st of July is kind of the cut-off, because very soon after that is one of the main deadlines for boat manufacturers,” he says.

“We use the same suppliers that we’ve been using for many years, so they don’t need too much of a heads up. But the boat manufacturers, we need to give them time.” 

“It’s quite complicated, and I would say if these quarantine measures are still in place then it would make it virtually impossible to hold an international event.”

For the city’s small but passionate surfski community, it would be a huge blow.

Each year they welcome the world’s best paddlers with open arms and have formed close relationships with them – uniquely, most athletes stay with locals for the race, rather than in hotels.

Similarly, it’s a favourite of the athletes. The cultural experience is like none other, while those unfamiliar with the event may be surprised to hear that the region often boasts perfect downwind conditions.

But whether or not the Dragon Run goes ahead is entirely out of the organising committee’s control.

Hong Kong is home to 7.5million residents yet it has only recorded just over 1,000 COVID-19 cases, resulting in four deaths. Given its geographical connection to mainland China, and the fact that its first confirmed case was in January, it’s an astounding result.

Crucial to this success has been its strict border controls.

Travel to Hong Kong hasn’t been cut off, however visitors must isolate for a 14-day period. So serious are authorities taking the threat, GPS trackers are being attached to those in quarantine so that their movements can be constantly monitored.

The restrictions are unlikely to be relaxed any time soon – and that’s where the problem lies for the race.

“We are planning as if it is taking place,” Seymour says. 

“We could try out best to attract international paddlers, but if they have to quarantine for two weeks, then who will be able to?

“If that [isolation period] is still in place, then it may not be a show-stopper, but it would make the race far more likely to be a local event.”

Great Minds Like A Think

It’s another logistical nightmare for Seymour to overcome. 

Last year’s Dragon Run was held amid heightened protest activity as residents pushed back against the influence of the Chinese government.

There was little demonstration while the event was on, but the day after saw an outbreak of violence that dramatically escalated the situation.

The Paddler understands that it was only due to the backing of the Dragon Run’s sponsors that the race went ahead.

“We were pretty close to cancelling the race last year,” he admits.

“Very close in fact.”

“We were a bit nervous in the weeks leading up to the race, but everyone handled it very well.”

This time around, the obstacles lie outside of Hong Kong itself.

“On a daily basis, if you’re walking around Hong Kong beaches and business districts, you wouldn’t notice anything unusual besides the fact everybody is wearing a mask,” he says.

“Absolutely everybody is wearing a mask.”

Seymour says the beaches are as packed as ever, bars and restaurants have re-opened and gathering sizes have been increased.

Life on the water is returning to normal too.

While paddlers were never stopped from getting in the surfski, events were forced to cancel.

However last weekend saw the first locally-run virtual race take place, an eight kilometre triangular course with paddlers split into small groups.

A local focus that may be the way forward for the Dragon Run in 2020.

“That’s the problem. The authorities and people in Kong Kong are still nervous about travellers entering the city.”

“Who knows how long this is going to last?”