It was the start of a new year, and I was with my host family.
The Lady of the House asked me if I wanted to go to a dragon boat practice with her. She wasn’t yet part of the dragon boat team, but she was thinking of joining. She’d never been to a practice before, but wanted to check it out. Did I want to go with her?
As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to go into new years ready to say Yes! to trying new activities, so I was primed to agree to dragon boat. I told the Lady ok, even though I’m not really athletic and I’m scared of drowning. (I may be an Aquarius–the water bearer–but I’m not a big fan of being in–or on–the water.)
The Lady and I discussed what we should wear. Living in my van means I can’t maintain an extensive wardrobe. Since I don’t exercise much, I don’t have exercise clothes. I tend to dress in long, flowy skirts, which didn’t seem like the right thing to wear for boating. I settled on the one pair of jeans I owned, my long-sleeved denim shirt (to protect my arms from the sun), my Keen sandals, and a blue cotton hat I’d recently paid $1 or at a small-town thrift store. I don’t remember what the Lady wore.
Practice started at 8am, so we were up early to eat breakfast (protein!) and prepare for our morning of exertion.
The Lady drove us to the marina, and we sat in the car trying to figure out which folks we saw milling around might be part of a dragon boat team. Once we made the connection with the team, we signed release forms and walked over to where the boat was stored.
I was extremely disappointed to see the boat looked nothing like a dragon. Let me repeat: There was no dragon to this boat. I thought we’d be propelling something ornate and fancy through the water. I thought the boat would have a beautiful head and a lovely tail, but no. The boat was only a boat. I guess the head and tail are used only for competitions. I suppose the head and tail would get banged up if they went out every week for practice, so I understand why they’re only attached during races, but still, I was sad to know we’d be in a plain, boring boat.
One team member took all the new people aside to teach us the basics while we were still on dry land. The newbies dutifully carried the paddles we’d been assigned to the grassy patch where our teacher went over the commands we would hear. She also showed us the proper way to hold our paddle, as well as how we would move them through the water. It wouldn’t be like paddling a canoe, she warned us.
The Lady and I laughed and said neither of us had ever paddled a canoe–or anything else–in our lives, so at least we wouldn’t have the problem of trying to break an old habit.
If I remember correctly, we held the paddles across our bodies. We were told we’d put the blade straight down into the water, then twist our upper bodies to move the paddle. It all seemed so easy on land.
Before we got in the boat, we suited up with life jackets, which made me worry a little less about drowning.
Each new person was paired with a more experienced team member. I knew it wouldn’t have been smart for the Lady and I–neither of whom knew what we were doing–to be paired up, but I did suffer some seperation anxiety when we had to part. I was matched up with the only man at practice that day. He turned out to be a nice guy, but I also suffered some dude anxiety when I was told he’d be my partner.
The group pushed the boat-laden trailer into the water. The boat was then detached from the trailer, but still tethered to the dock.
My man partner and I were to be the last pair in the boat. Only the woman steering sat behind us.
Getting into the boat was treacherous. With my every move, the boat rocked beneath me. However, I managed to get in and sit down without tipping myself or anyone else into the water.
Soon it was time to put our paddles into the lake and propel the boat.
I’m not very coordinated, and I’m particularly bad at timing my movements to stay in sync with a group. Other members of the team had warned me and the Lady that these new movements might feel awkward at first; I don’t think they realized I wasn’t joking when I said I pretty much always feel awkward when I’m making any movements.
The Lady was sitting directly in front of me, and sometimes our paddles crashed when one of us (usually me) was out of sync. Later, the Lady told me she’d made herself laugh thinking about how funny it would be if she purposely crashed her paddle repeatedly into mine. She knew I would have laughed, but she thought the other folks might have frowned on such shenanigans, and she was considering joining the team, after all.
Sometimes the woman steering would call out directions and suggestions to me. I tired to follow her instructions, but I was definitely thinking, I’m never coming back. Why bother? But I did bother because I didn’t want to ruin the practice or reflect poorly on the Lady and her (possible) team aspirations.
A woman at the front of the boat faced us. She directed our actions. She had an accent that made me think of an Eastern European gymnastics coach. She was very serious. When she wanted us to work particularly hard, she would shout, Pow-wa! Pow-wa! Pow-wa! I found this especially hilarious and had to concentrated on not giggling.
(Since that day, when the Lady and I are working together on a task that requires strength or determination, one of us will say to the other, Pow-wa! Pow-wa! Pow-wa! Sometimes we chant in unison.)
The best parts of the practice were the few times the woman in front said new folks should remove their paddles from the water and just sit. It was lovely to let others do the work while I enjoyed the cool air rushing past me and concentrated not on the proper movements of my paddle but on the view of the lake.
The worst part of the practice was when I had to switch to the other side of the boat. Scary! Each member of each pair had to switch, and we performed this maneuver while out in the middle of the lake. One pair at a time did the switch. I was once again pleased not to tip myself or anyone else into the water. However, the switch meant that just as I was growing accustomed to making the proper motions on the right side, I had to start making the movements on the left.
Also annoying was my new blue hat trying to fly away in the breeze. I literally had to hold onto my hat at times. I managed to keep up with it during practice, but I gave up on it altogether and left it in a free pile a few weeks later.
I was worn out when practice ended. I was glad to help paddle back to the dock. Everyone helped sponge out the boat (why?) and we returned our paddles and life jackets. We didn’t go with the team for breakfast at Denny’s, but the Lady did treat me to French toast at her favorite diner.
I haven’t been to another dragon boat practice, but the Lady joined the team. She has her own gloves and her own PFD (personal flotation device–aka life jacket), and her own paddle. She’s even competed in races, and I suppose she’s seen the boat decked out with its dragon head and tail.
Pow-wa! Pow-wa! Pow-wa!