I once had a job at a bark mulch factory. I sat on a chair at the edge of a flat roof, no railing beside me. For hours at a time, a conveyor belt full of bark mulch would move past me and I was tasked with picking out rocks, sticks and other non-conforming pieces.
I’d get into a rhythm of work, only staring at the conveyor belt’s load. When it was finally shut off and I took my eyes away, it seemed everything else was moving. I would be forced to sit in the chair and wait until my eyes adjusted or risk falling off the roof.
Dragon boating was kind of like that.
Scott Farrell of the Fraser Valley Dragon Boat Club kindly invited me to his team ‘The Pirates’, practice last Thursday evening. I arrived with trepidation. But I wanted to get a first-hand look at the sport. After all, it’s popular on our local lake and with the regatta coming up, it would be nice to see what all the fuss was about.
Team members describe the Pirates as “seriously fun.” And while they hold varied jobs in their regular lives, once they get in that boat they are a team plain and simple.
Everyone was friendly as I made my way into the long narrow boat. I got a quick lesson in proper technique then we were off. Dip, stroke, out, repeat. Faster, slower, reach and pull. It was a lot to absorb.
I found myself keeping my eyes on the paddle and water right in front of me. I zoned in as we did different drills at different tempos. Like a conveyor belt, the water kept whipping by while I focused on the task in hand.
As we do drills, I start to feel the weight of the paddle. It’s a mind game, I tell myself, as we count in strokes of 10. We battle the water as the wind picks up, pretending we are in a race. My arms burn. It hurts to lift the paddle up again and again. But I do it, wanting to keep rhythm with the team. I know the pain won’t last, that I will hear the words ‘Let it ride’ soon enough. It’s a reward in its own right, this feeling of intense satisfaction for knowing I put everything I could into every stroke.
It was intoxicating to be not just on the lake, but to feel absorbed by it. Paddles deep in the water, hands soaking, pants and shirts dripping. Hands so close you can drop your fingers down and feel the cool depths.
By the end, even the light paddling to bring the boat back to the dock was more than I could bear.
Dragon boating was much more fun and much more work than I anticipated. I thought with that many paddlers, one person does not exert much. But the opposite was true. With that many members, I wanted to make sure I kept in time with those around me, that I didn’t drag the team down and that I added as much of my own energy as I could.
Back on shore, all are smiling and talking and enjoying the comraderie of an evening’s practice time well spent. It was an unfair question, I suppose, to ask if the Pirates ever won races. ‘We always win at the beer garden,’ was the response of more than one. They laugh, and head off to their cars to meet up for a beer. And now I know from experience, that beer is a well earned nightcap to a night on the water.
The Pirates are one of the teams that make up the Fraser Valley Dragon Boat Club, which is hosting the Harrison regatta this Saturday, July 25. Come watch the races, cheer on the local teams and see dragon boating in action. For info, see www.harrisondragonboat.com