Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dragon Boat Festival

Last summer when I moved to town, there was a dragonboat booth at one of the local summer festivals.  I've always thought dragonboating would be COOLER THAN SHIT, plus it's nice to join a team to meet people and get exercise.  So I signed up.

Our season started the end of March.  Somehow (thanks to my coworker and teammate Amy), I wound up on the most competitive team in a 100 mile radius, so at my first practice I was like Please be kind, I'm as green as bananas...

The coach sat behind me and gave me 3375 tips and corrections for me to get the very, very basic paddle technique down.  Everyone was really nice about me being so green.  Even the girl who was unfortunate enough to sit in front of me and get continually splashed by my errant paddle topping a wave on the return arc.  =)  At the end of that first practice, during which I held on by my toenails and made myself look frantic and discombobulated for the good of my sport, the coach asked me how it went.


I couldn't wait to go again.  I died every practice. I crawled out of bed the following two mornings feeling like a 92 year old robot with rusty joints.  I gasped and splashed and wrestled with the paddle and the proper hip movement and the proper grip and the proper shoulder angle and the proper reach and the proper paddle depth and the proper facial expression, and I loved every minute.  My back gave me huge hassles, but I managed.  This sport is so much fun; partly because it is an all ages sport, with all levels of competitiveness from recreational to seriously committed.  And partly because it requires your team to have many paddles but one mind.

The most memorable practice was one where we did a drill that lasted 19 minutes without stopping.  And then we had to switch sides and do it again.  I almost defeated myself with that drill because our helmsman warned us the drill would be 19 minutes and I totally freaked out inside, certain I would die.  I did not, and in fact we paddled all 38 minutes with very little mental anguish.  I surprised myself with what I (we) could accomplish.

My team is pretty fierce.  Last year they drove themselves hard, and this year they wanted to take it a bit easier, do fewer festivals, and have a shorter season.  So we entered two festivals.  The first was in Victoria but I couldn't find childcare so I had to miss it, but the second was in Nanaimo this past weekend.  Holy shit was it ever fun!

Brent was working--in order to be able to go, I had to bring all the kids with me, and my mom came over on the ferry with her camper to babysit for me.  (YAY MOM!!!)  We camped at Englishman River Falls near Parksville for the weekend.

Ayden was camp champ; he helped me set up and organize the tent, and started the campfire (including chopping kindling).

The first evening was sprinkling rain but the trees kept the forested areas dry so the kids played in the woods and went to bed late, after a good dinner and some s'mores.  The next morning we were up early because I had to be at the paddler's village for 8:30.  Fed and ready for racing.  It was supposed to be warm and sunny.  It was not.

My paddling partner's name is Deb, and my team is the Pussycats.  Here we are waiting for our first race!  It was epic.  I was wildly nervous because there are over 70 teams competing at the Nanaimo Festival, and the energy and noise and excitement were incredibly high.  Also, I'm a new paddler.  I didn't want to slow the team down or lose my paddle or fall overboard or something.

I don't look super nervous here, but I am.

Paddler's Village is this huge collection of tents, teams, music, warmups, the marshaling tent, and the most hilarious volunteer ever who was marshaling coordinator and had his own mic.  For each $1000 he raised from the racers, he shaved half his head.  All the funds raised through the festival go to breast cancer research.

My first race was a bit of a shock.  We paddle faster and way more powerfully in the race than in a practice, and there was so much going on around us that it was hard for me to do anything but breathe and flail.  Races are 500 meters but feel like a million.  They last just over two minutes but feel like an hour.  The type of hour that flies by.  Afterwards we are all so spent we can't talk, paddle, move, or climb out of the boat.  We won our first race by almost 8 seconds!  I think we all surprised ourselves.... Coaching feedback I got from that race was ...You were a bit too excited.  Just as I thought.  Breathe and flail.  It's my signature move.

This is another team lining up to race

We won our second race too!  And improved on our time by 6 seconds.  I did much less flailing that time.  And was much, much calmer mentally.  Perhaps these two facts were related.

Winning both heats meant we were in the platinum competition for the following day; competing for top 4 or top 8...
It also meant some double fisting in the beer garden afterwards...

That evening we went out for dinner as a team.  My mom had brought the kids to watch us race, play in the playground, and browse the farmer's market, but they were tuckered out by mid afternoon so they went back to the campground while I went out with my team.  I had a rack of ribs, prawns, Ceasar salad, coleslaw, and a spinach dip appie.... And I ate nearly all of it.  We were all starving.

Next morning started even earlier, since our first race was early in the morning.  I woke up to several inches of rainwater in the vestibule of our tent, soaked race gear, clothing, shoes, and kid gear.  That was fantastic.  I drove back to Nanaimo in soggy gear, making it just on time.  We had an amazing start, our technique was good, and our timing was synchronized, but we still came third in that race.  We lost to stronger teams.  We needed to win first or second in that heat to qualify for top tier and be medal contenders, so our next race would determine where we placed in the 5th to 8th category.  But man, after winning so beautifully the day before it was a real hit to miss the top 4.  Our fourth race was later that afternoon, and we came second!  So we placed 6th overall among over 30 teams in our division.  Not too shabby!  We were SO CLOSE to 5th place; we lost by only 2/10ths of a second!  So painful!!!!


Caryn Ouwehand said...

Hooray for fitness endeavors and sports! The high of competing is so great... I hope I never quit playing soccer because of this very thing!

melissa v. said...

I haven't found something this energizing since dance... It's so fun! :)