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In a dragon boat race…

It gets quiet on the water.
Waiting while the sun beats down, watching the previous race churn down the lanes, subconsciously counting their start in your head.

Before you know it, you’re paddling to the start line, your teammates are patting you on the back or shoulder, words of confidence and encouragement floating back and forth.
While the steersperson straightens the boat, the pacers uphold tradition and splash the dragon.

The boat next to you takes a little longer to straighten their boat; you and your teammates are in hold position, waiting.

You sit quietly for a moment, trying to calm your nerves, slow the heartbeat.
Then you look up at your drummer and she looks back and grins.

Standby! Are you ready!
You lean forward, paddle poised and ready as all of your coach’s mantras flip through your head: don’t look on the blade anymore; you don’t need to see, you need to feeeel.

All the paddlers collectively inhale.
There’s only a fraction of a second to contemplate the lack of noise before the horn goes off. Somewhere at the back of your mind, your brain registers that the horn is important and you must do something – but your body is already moving. Hours of practice move your muscles, focusing the strength on the blade, everyone moving together. The boat surges with each stroke.

Halfway and inevitably, the thoughts appear in your head:
It’s so hot
I’m so tired
The finish line is still so far…
Are we there yet???

Banishing them by putting more power on the blade and yelling encouragement to your teammates, a previously agreed “TWIST!!” escapes your lips and gains followers down the boat.

Close to the second last buoy your steersperson calls the charge.
When you thought you had no energy left, nothing more to give, you rise to the call.
The boat surges as your teammates do the same, your drummer is going nuts on the drum and yelling encouragement. The pace picks up, but the finish line seems to be approaching too slowly.
Within your periphery, boats on either side surge with their charges; the combination of camaraderie and a desire to win overcomes exhaustion.

Almost there! Keep going! Longerrrrr!  Everything!!!

That’s what you are giving – everything.

Then it’s all over.
In less than three minutes.

You glance left.  Glance right.  And start to cheer – you won  your race.  And it was all sooooooooooooo worth it.

9 things to know for your first dragon boat race

First dragon boat race coming up?  Here are some do’s and don’ts…

  1. You will have to be there early.  Like really really early.  I know its the weekend, and usually that means sleeping in… but not on race day!  Every race is different, but Captains will require you to be there early – usually well before 8am. Be there on time. If you are late, Captains will have to shuffle crews based on the assumption that you aren’t showing up that day.
  2. The paddlers can change from race to race.  So, you may be in one boat and then not in the next.  Captains change the paddlers in a boat for various reasons.  Generally, they are trying to balance participation, competitiveness, fitness and race sequencing.  If you have issues with any of the lines set out – please approach the captains privately and ask why.  They will be happy to explain.
  3. Most of your day will be spent waiting.  Waiting in the tent for your race call.  Waiting in queue for them to call you to the boats. Waiting at the start line for the other boats to line up. Waiting for the announcement of what position you finished. Lots of waiting. You will quickly learn how fun waiting can be.
  4. Come prepared.  Bring your paddle and lifejacket (which you should have picked up during your last practice).  Bring a few snacks.  Bring sunscreen.   Optional: Bring umbrella/gloves/hat/sunglasses/butt pad if you are used to paddling with them, yoga mats/blankets to rest on, book/technology to pass the time, guitar/sports equipment/board games to play with, camera to document all that is going on around you. Oh, and you.  Bring you. On time 🙂
  5. Races NEVER go according to schedule.  Sometimes they are early, sometimes they are late.  Someimtes they skip races altogether (usually due to inclement weather).  For this reason, it is impossible to know when exactly you will be racing.  It is also for this reason that Captains need to know if you go anywhere (yes, including if you are just going the washroom).  It might feel like kindergarten…. but its important that you tell someone when you go to the washroom or to get food or to make out with your partner. Preferably the captain of the boat in your next race.
  6. Its hot out there!  Especially if its a sunny day.  Though, really, its still hot even if its overcast!  Drink lots of water.  Put on sunscreen every couple of hours.  Eat small amounts throughout the day (even when lunch arrives – don’t eat too much!). We have had people get heat stroke or not be able to race due to food cramps at races – please don’t let that be you.
  7. For races you need to wear a life jacket, jersey, shorts and shoes.  Shoes can come off once you settled in  boat – but must be worn getting in/out of the boat.  Jerseys, shorts and lifejackets must be worn for the duration of the time you are on the water.
  8. When you are in the boat – listen to the cox.  If the race starter tells our boat to do something… Don’t!  Unless our cox asks us to. Our coxes know what they are doing. They usually have a grand startline plan that we don’t know about.  Listen to them – over and above everyone else.
  9. Have fun!  That is the whole point… right?  You are there to have fun!  It is a competiive environment – but, the Canadian dragons are famous for doing better in on the water when they are happy and relaxed off the water. So, make the most of it.
  10. Thanks for racing with us!