Safety First II

Coming into my third racing season, I felt I had established my bona fides as a dragon boater and was ready for some formal training. 

First up was the California Dragon Boat Association safety course. This course is mandatory for steerspeople but is encouraged for everyone and is held on various dates and locations during the year. The Alameda DragonFlyers pick up the cost for members as part of their commitment to safety. 

I picked a Sunday class in late February at the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. My teammate, Marcella, was the only other DragonFlyer attending that particular class, so we carpooled. 

It’s easy to forget how diverse the dragon boating community is when day in and day out you are emmeshed in your team’s culture. At races you typically camp near teams similar to yours and race in heats with teams like yours. Which helps explain the clash in cultures I experienced as Marcella and I walked up the steps of the library. 

There were gathered on the steps about forty high school students, most of not all Asian, in various racing attire – with the exception of one young man who was apparently wearing only a towel around his waist. It was a high energy crowd for a Sunday morning. They had probably come straight from practice, maybe amped up on power drinks. 

As Marcella and I sat on the steps waiting for Thaddeus who teaches the course, I kept wondering if my high school debate colleagues and I were ever that wired. 

Finally, Thaddeus arrived, and we took our seats in the multi-purpose room in the basement of the library. The lesson plan was somewhat free-form. The students were quick to ask questions which often lead Thaddeus astray. But the information was all useful. Marcella and I talked about our team’s capsize drill, which Thaddeus had come to witness. The teens seemed unimpressed by the thought of a bunch of middle-aged ladies flapping around in a heated pool. 

Thaddeus showed some videos of capsizes of and collisions among dragon boats. Marcella and I were happy to learn that there was video of the DragonFlyers’ legendary capsize the last time we raced in Long Beach. The capsize seemed to impress the students. Thaddeus admonished that this was a serious event, adding, “ADF lost some paddlers as a result of the capsize.”

The room went mostly quiet as the students reflected on the magnitude of the event. Then I had to chime in, “What Thaddeus means is that after the capsize some members left the team. No one died.” 

The course also included some hands-on instruction. Thaddeus set up two rows of chairs as if they were a dragon boat. He then had the students sit in the chairs as if they were racing. At his command, the students were supposed to simulate a capsize. I thought they would nicely step away from the chairs. But no! They flung themselves in every direction! 

I was happy with the thought that I don’t have to race head-to-head with these kids. 

There was another video that showed a drummer being knocked off the boat at the start of a race and left dog paddling in the water as the boats all took off. No wonder many of my teammates don’t want to drum. 

At the end there was a written test. As the day had been what I might call non-linear, I was insecure about the test. Also, I hadn’t thought to take thorough notes. But I learned a few weeks later that I had passed. But in all honesty, if I had any ambitions to steer, I think I would take the course again in the hopes of being paired with mellower classmates. 

Paddling in a Winter Wonderland

ADF Setting out for the parade

In December it was time once again for the lighted yacht parade. Since the DragonFlyers first parade experience was deemed a success, it was agreed that we would do it again. This time with a bit more planning and the experience of one parade to enlighten us. 

First thing that was resolved was that we would not make the full parade loop past Jack London Square. Last year we learned that making the loop left us with a long paddle home in the dark. And this time our team leaders focused in on entering a boat that embraced the theme of the parade, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.”

I thought the outcome was truly inspired. 

The paddlers were all to wear snowman, penguin or Christmas tree hats and oversized long-sleeved white tee-shirts OVER their PDFs. The result was a squad of paddlers with perfect snowmen bodies. 

For the boat, Dick and Sandra took things to the next level. For the first year, we but LED lights along the gunwale. This time, they rigged a line the length of the boat suspended on tall poles from the bow and tail of the boat and, again, here comes the inspired part, hung a curtain of small white lights. Looked just like falling snow when we were underway. 

There were also feature lights at the head and the tail of the boat. Paddlers once again wore lighted head and arm bands as we did year one. 

A few weeks out from the parade, I was troubled to hear that Brett, who sat up front in the boat and led us the year before, had another commitment that night and would not be coming. When I asked who was going to lead the boat, he responded, “Maybe someone who knows how to sing and can lead the paddlers in carols,” this was a reference to my rendition of the national anthem at the Victoria race earlier in the year. “And,” he added, “ maybe someone who has a dragon boat blog.”

So I was recruited. The boat didn’t have the drumming chair affixed, and it was a challenge to site at the front straddling the pole holding up the lights in place. But, luckily, I’m small. I had created a playlist of Christmas carols, heavy with various versions of ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ on my iPhone, but when we got to the dock we realized we didn’t have a compatible speaker. 

But we could sing. Dick had printed out the lyrics to Winter Wonderland, and I brought a cheat sheet with the words to other caroling favorites. 

Once again it was a fun night out on the water. We saw our friends the Renegades, the kayakers, and I think even a SUP. The only downsides were that one of the strokers was dressed for weather about 20 degrees colder than it was; the light on the dragon head kept craping out; and a couple of times I started a song in a key that too high for the majority of the paddlers. 

I never thought I would sing Walking in a Winter Wonderland that many times. But all of our efforts paid off… we won the prize for best boat in the “other” category! There weren’t medals, but there was a nifty cash prize that went into the team’s kitty. 

A Second Chance to Howl

The wonderful women of ADF

The Halloween Howl is the last dragon boat event of the year in the Bay Area. The event is organized and hosted by our friend and neighbor the Oakland Renegades and occurs on the Sunday closest to Halloween. After the race there is a community potluck at the Lake Merritt Boating Center – the same venue that hosted the Nor Cal in September. 

As you might recall from an earlier post, in the prior year the Halloween race was called off (at least by the Alameda DragonFlyers) due to heavy rain. This year it was a cool morning, but not too cold to race. The Renegades were serving hot beverages, and I had my swim parka, so I was there for the duration. 

Cap’n Dick catching up on the news

The Halloween Howl is a costume-optional event for ADF. The theme was ‘super heroes’, but there were no requirements. Many of us opted for Wonder Woman. Since the movie had just come out in the fall, costumes were plentiful, and they didn’t interfere with paddling. Nancy opted for a scary clown, which was, well, really creepy. Dick came as a pirate, I’m guessing because he has a really boffo pirate coat and hat. 

The DragonFlyers have over time developed some expertise at paddling backwards. Our boats are moored on the shore side of a long dock that accommodates larger boats on the estuary side. As a result, we start every practice with a long backpaddle to clear the dock. It was a race that was made for us. 

I drummed the backpaddle race, but since everyone was facing backwards and the strokers were at the back-now-front of the boat, I was kind of useless, but I did my best. And the good news is that we took first place! And, I soon learned, unlike in Victoria, the Renegades provided medals. (If I had known that there were medals at stake at the Howl, I might have bee inclined to endure the rain a while longer.)

 After the race was the potluck. I approach potlucks with caution since I am gluten-free. So I had packed a lunch, and brought along a bottle of wine for good measure at Dick’s suggestion. Turned out the Renegades were raising money by selling wine, so we had to be stealthy about my contribution. Over lunch I found out from Lisa Marie that I was entitled to a medal from the Nor Cal (see previous post), which warmed my cockles almost as much as the wine. 

Then there was the medal ceremony on the boating center patio. I finished the season with three medals to my name. I would call that a good year. 

Delayed Gratification

As September rolled around, it was time for this older and wiser paddler to conquer the Nor Cal again in the hope of adding to my stash of medals.

In case you forgot, the Nor Cal is the Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival held on our own Lake Merritt. The drill was the same as the year before, shortage of parking, assigned camping spot, vast array of paddlers from all over the Pacific.

The DragonFlyers had enough paddlers to enter two boats, the red boat and the blue boat named for our practice boats, in the race. Coach Lisa Marie must have gained some confidence in my drumming abilities (or was desperate for drummers) because I drummed most races for our red boat. I also paddled a race or two on the blue boat – another split roster situation like in Victoria.

Our camp was next to the Renegades and Summon the Dragon was nearby too, so there was lots of socializing between races, and I was heartened that I actually knew a few people outside ADF.

It was a very festive atmosphere with the vendors, the commemorative jerseys for sale and the chance to win swag from Hong Kong – the lead sponsor. I won a baseball had with an attractive logo. Back at our camp, a newer team member who is a Zumba enthusiast led our warm ups Zumba-style which attracted a crowd as other teams joined in.

ADF camp

They also had chase boats taking photos during the races and offering them for sale in a big tent. That’s how I got the picture of me drumming. In addition, there food trucks, PFD giveaways (limited time only) and team USA members working the crowds offering dragon boat themed tchotchkes in exchange for modest donations.

When all was said and done, the blue team took third place in the Rec C division, same as last year. The red boat came in just seconds behind. Not a bad showing at all.

This time I knew to stay for the awards, and with the bulk of the team I went up on stage to claim my bling. But when we exited the stage with a box of medals, we realized there were only 22 – just enough for the crew of the red boat. It was the boat that won, not the whole team. I hadn’t thought that through.

I tried to remain stoic, but I was devastated. And these medals were particularly handsome. In an effort to appear to be a good sport, I joined a bunch of paddlers and kin for dinner at a trendy pseudo dive in downtown Oakland and did my best to celebrate.

Time went on, and I still missed my medal. A month later at the Halloween Howl race I mentioned to coach Lisa Marie that I was surprised how competitive I’ve become evidenced by the fact that I was pouting over not getting a medal.

To my surprise, she said “oh, no you did get a medal. It was a split roster. I explained that to them and got two extra medals.”

I couldn’t believe it. Whining almost never pays off! It took a few days before I could connect with team captain Carol and collect my booty. Now it shares the place of honor in my office with the 2016 Nor Cal medal and the luggage tag from Victoria.

Safety First!

ADF capsize drill in a nice warm pool

The biggest danger in dragon boat racing is capsizing. And the most likely occasion for a capsize is during a race when six boats are racing side-by-side in relatively narrow lanes and at risk of colliding.

Many of the Alameda DragonFlyers know about capsizing first hand as their boat flipped over in a race in Long Beach, CA a few years ago. So the DragonFlyers are serious about safety. PFD’s are a must, and not the inflatable kind most stand-up paddleboarders wear; every practice begins with a safety tip from the steersperson; and all paddlers are encouraged to take the California Dragon Boaters Association safety class at the team’s expense.

In June the need for safety was driven home, both literally and figuratively, when a dragon boat ran aground in our own estuary stranding 16 paddlers who had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. (Ironically, they ran aground just a few feet from Coast Guard Island because they failed to observe a channel marker.)

Many dragon boat teams (particularly those in warmer climes) will perform capsize drills where they intentionally tip the boat – after informing the authorities of their intentions. But the estuary is a busy waterway, and the water temperature in our neck of the woods hovers between the mid-50s to the low-60s. So tipping the boat in the estuary might be problematic.

After news of the boat that ran aground, the ADF board discussed options for a capsize drill. Some were in favor of doing it in the estuary, since that is the most realistic scenario, but others worried about the water temperature.

A compromise was finally struck: we would use a pool as a proxy for the estuary. A nice warm, salt water pool that belongs to a friend of the team.

I was excited about the opportunity to test the PDF. I’m a relatively strong swimmer, but that’s in a swimsuit at the beach. I had been wondering how the PDF would help or hinder my ability to swim. I also had heard that during the capsize in Long Beach one of our paddlers lost his glasses. So I wanted to see if my glasses had any chance of staying in place.

On the appointed afternoon, we all gathered at the pool in our typical paddling gear. The exercise was to be followed by a barbeque, so a change of clothes was also part of the program.

The plan was to check the adjustments on the PFDs so they fit correctly. Then to jump in the pool and get a feel for the PFD in the water. Then we were going to do drills that included helping an incapacitated paddler to the shore, pulling a paddler out of the water, and (the one I worried about) emerging from underneath a capsized boat.

The floating was fun, and it didn’t feel nearly as strange as I thought it would to be in the pool in something that resembled street clothes. Thankfully, my glasses stayed put. Swimming was slow going in the PFD, but the plan is to stay with the boat and be rescued, NOT to swim to the shore. Ferrying disabled paddlers to the edge of the pool was also harder than I expected, but doable.

Then we moved on to the emerging from under the capsized boat – a large plastic storage tub taking the place of the boat. That went fine too. It helped that the storage tub was transparent. I think if it were a real, non-transparent, boat a bit of claustrophobia might set in.

Finally, it was time to help paddlers out of the water from the shore. This seemed straight forward, use the paddler’s buoyancy to give you a head start, and then quickly yank them up and out.

It was not that easy. First of all, it was recommended that the ‘rescuer’ kneel at the side of the pool. Due to an old injury, my knees do not like it when I put weight on them. I tried, but failed miserably. Someone produced a garden kneeler which helped with the knees, but I couldn’t pull even our smallest paddlers out of the water. Not at all.

With the drills done, we went on to change and enjoy the barbeque. And had learned I should not go rushing to the aid of anyone who goes into the water.

As it happened, within a week or so we had a chance to practice our new lifesaving skills when one of our paddlers fell of the dock while we were walking to our boat. Our dock is pretty rickety and has been undergoing repairs. So there was a lot of building material stacked on the dock. The unfortunate paddler had turned to talk to the person behind her and tripped over some of the lumber.

Everyone, except me, rushed to her aid. Given the condition of the dock, that was probably not a good idea. Some of the big guys, who were not nearby, rushed to where she fell in. In fact, two of the coaches had everything in hand, and she was out of the water in no time.

So we all got another lesson or two. Don’t chat a dock that is in disrepair. If someone has a rescue in hand, don’t rush in. Follow the direction of your steersperson and coaches. And, sadly, don’t count on me to get you out of the water if you fall in the drink.

Race Day in Victoria

The first-place Alameda DragonFlyers/Oakland Renegades women‘s team

When you travel with a dragon boat team, a local team serves as your host in camp. They provide canopies, chairs and basic food stuffs. Alas, the didn’t leave us anything gluten free, and being Celiac, that’s a problem for me. But luckily Canada is a very gluten-free-friendly place, so I had already found a GF muffin at the hotel’s grab-and-go.

(In a gluten-free aside, Friday afternoon several of us went to the Empress Hotel for a very pricey high tea. I’m kind of a tea aficionado, so I was willing to splurge even if I couldn’t partake in the cakes and small sandwiches. But to my surprise, they offered an alternative plate of GF goodies.)

In addition to our ADF mixed boat, we partnered with the Oakland Renegades to create a women’s boat. Remember, it was here in Victoria that AFD had won first place in a women’s race once before. We even managed to have one practice with the Renegade women, who practice on the same estuary as we do, before the trip to Victoria.

The race was held in Victoria’s Inner Harbor right in front of the Empress Hotel. It is an active harbor complete with ferries, water taxies and even sea planes. It was also in the center of the City which made it easy to wander around, grab lunch or a cup of tea. And the race hotel was kitty-corner to the Empress, so everything was walkable. And the Harbor is beautiful.

Like always, the first day was qualifying heats. It was an amazingly well-run event. First thing you need to know is that Canada is a hot bed of dragon boat racing. Once I got to Northern Washington, people stopped mistaking my paddle for a rifle, and they all were familiar with the sport.

The race day began with the singing of the Canadian National Anthem. Then the marshalling started. Marshalling can be kind of a chaotic experience, but these Canadians had it down to a science led by a commanding (and loud) gentleman who kept the teams organized, engaged and enthused.

For this event, I drummed for the mixed boat and the team’s other newly-minted drummer drummed for the women’s boat. Our mixed team fared decently. We were at a disadvantage because we had only three men on the team for the qualifying heats on Saturday and only two on Sunday. Men are allowed to make up up to half of a mixed boat for races, but ADF rarely hits that limit. The mixed boat didn’t ultimately medal, but it did move up a division from the last time we raced in Victoria.

On the other hand, the hybrid ‘Renegade DamselFlyers’ boat was doing pretty well. It was a split-roster boat since while neither ADF or Renegades had enough women to make a boat alone, between us we had more than 20 women. So a few paddlers sat out in each race on a rotating basis. At the end of the second day, the women’s boat was set to race in the final for the Diamond, B division. I was rotated out for that last race, but in a way I was lucky because I could enjoy the performance from the shore.

It was nothing short of thrilling to watch our boat pull ahead and win. You will have to excuse my shouts of exhilaration in the video. While winning was beyond exciting, the prospect of collecting another medal was eagerly awaited – at least by me.

Alas, that elation was short-lived. We learned that the teams in the B division races would not receive medals, but were rewarded with a generic luggage tag promoting the sesquicentennial of Canada. In a word, we were disgusted. How could our great accomplishment go unrewarded?

While we were at the hotel bar both celebrating our win and drowning our sorrows over the lack of bling, one team mate showed up with her luggage tag attached to a maple-leaf festooned lanyard around her neck. That seemed like an inspired idea, especially after a few drinks. So while part of our group were out to dinner they procured lanyards for the whole boat, and we each fashioned our own medals.

The next morning while waiting to go to the airport we were able to enjoy an impressive eclipse. But the trip went downhill from there. Most members of both ADF and Renegades were returning on the same flight. There was no plane in sight when we got to the Victoria airport, and it was nearly an hour past our departure time before any appeared.

As a result, none of us made the connecting flight from Seattle, and we all had our own unique adventures getting home. I ended up on a late flight to San Jose where I found my paddle, but no suitcase and took an Uber that got me home to Alameda around midnight.

At home I hung my faux first place medal with my other trophies. As time has passed, I’ve become quite proud of it.

As a footnote, on the second day, the powers that be decided we should sing not only the Canadian anthem, but also the American anthem out of respect for the American participants. Unbeknownst to my team mates, I recently sang the Star Spangled Banner as part of a choir at a Philadelphia Phillies game, so I was comfortable with the intimidating song. They got quite a start when I started belting out the National Anthem. Hint: It’s a lot easier to sing if you sing loudly.

The Away Race

Water taxis that shared the harbor with us on race day in Victoria, BC

Every season, the Alameda DragonFlyers participate in at least one out-of-town race. Most of the time the events are on the West Coast, but every few years they venture farther afield, once going as far at Venice, Italy.

In my first season the team sent a boat to Portland. Since I was still mastering racing at Lake Merritt, the trip to Portland was out of the question in my mind. But in my second season they were going to Victoria, BC.

Victoria had a lot going for it from my point of view: I’ve never been there; I have friends and family in Bellingham, WA who I could visit on my way; and, perhaps most importantly, I had been told when we last raced in Victoria we took first place.

So I signed up. Like all races, the festival was held on a Saturday and Sunday. I arranged to go to Seattle early in the week, stay with friends and then the ferry from Anacortes to Victoria.

The race coordinators arranged a variety of optional activities on Friday for those who arrived early. I signed up for high tea at the Empress Hotel, which came highly recommended but was fairly pricey.

In my corporate days I was a bit of a road warrior. I traveled cross-country on average once a month, and to Europe at least a couple of times a year. As a result, I had my travel routine down pat. But right away I could see that this trip would be different when people started pairing off as roommates.

I have not shared a hotel room since I was 23 years old. My sleep and digestion can get very out of whack when I’m on the road, so I wasn’t going to do the room mate thing with these relative strangers. I would be just fine in my own room.

Then there was the issue of the gear. I’m adept at traveling with a laptop in tow, but not a paddle – not to mention a PFD. I ordered a paddle cover since the TSA considers the paddles to be weapons and require they checked as baggage. While I normally manage a weekend trip with a small carry-on tote, to accommodate the PFD I had to break out the wheelie bag.

For the record, the race organizers do provide paddles and PFDs for racers, but I had become very attached to my paddle and had been warned that the PFDs can be kind of skanky since you pull one from a collective pile for each race.

I also had to accommodate my paddling clothing, including team jersey, paddling shoes (Keen sandals for most of us), and the swim parka I bought after the brush with hypothermia earlier in Spring. And, of course, the newly-completed fish hat for drumming. Suffice it to say I did not look like a seasoned traveler dragging all of this stuff through the airport along with my smallest carry-on tote and my handbag.

The ferry trip from Bellingham/Anacordes was beautiful (see video at top of post), but ended up taking me far out of my way. Anacordes is about an hour from Bellingham and the ferry comes in to Syndey, BC which is about 40 minutes from Victoria.

My Bellingham friends had loaded me up with gluten free food for the trip, requiring yet another bag making me an even more awkward traveler. On the upside, people tended to keep out of my way, I assume on the suspicion that the paddle bag could be holding a rifle.

Now it was off to the races.

Mystery Dragon Boat Sighting

As I mentioned when I started this blog, I got interested in dragon boating in large part because I live on the water. My kitchen looks out over one of the many Alameda marinas which provides a source of entertainment while I’m doing the dishes.

One Sunday morning, while I’m making my tea next to the sink and enjoying the morning off, I see a dragon boat go by. A dragon boat! In my own marina. Outside my window. How could that be? It wasn’t Renegades from Oakland, and it wasn’t Cal’s boat. It was just some mystery dragon boat tooling around the marina.

I couldn’t wait until our next practice to see if I could unravel this mystery. So next Saturday I casually mentioned to coach Sue that I had seen a dragon boat in my neighborhood. Her response was, “Oh, that was us.”

Now I was really confused. It wasn’t my ‘us’. My ‘us’ was making tea in the kitchen.  Sue’s response was so casual, it seemed wrong to follow-up. So I let it go. But later I inquired, who did she mean by us. The answer only solicited more questions. She said something about Mark and Thara, who I had never heard of, having their own boat now.

Unbeknownst to me, I had stumbled into a quagmire of dragon boat politics with the discovery of Mark and Thara’s boat. I just wanted to figure out how I could get on that boat at least once so I could paddle by my house.

But my early ambitions to avoid dragon boat drama were slowly evaporating before my eyes. My commitment to remain above the fray of any dragon boat politics was quickly overwhelmed by my burning desire to fid this boat and convince Mark and Thara (whoever they were) to let me come for a paddle.

Little Drummer Girl Part 2

I’m a traditionalist. Maybe it’s all of those years in Catholic school, but I like ritual and tradition. But in the case of drumming, my focus on a particular ritual may have diverted me from the main objective: counting.

In my first racing season I had become enamored of the drummers, I noted they tended to wear strange hats. Our drummer at the time donned a knitted fish hat when she was drumming. I asked her why, and she responded enigmatically, “This is the hat I wear when I drum.” 

As the season went on, I realized many, but not all, of the drummers were wearing strange and often gaudy hats. Someone finally explained to me that it was a tradition, particularly in Asia, for the drummer to wear a distinctive hat so that the spectators on shore could identify the teams in the water. 

I knit, and it wasn’t hard to find the fish hat pattern online. But I thought it might be a breech of dragon boat etiquette to usurp another person’s drumming hat style. What would happen if every drumming decided to wear a fish hat? Anarchy! 

So I started looking for an alternative hat to knit. Since we are the Alameda DragonFlyers, I figured I could adapt a pattern I found for a fly hat, and went about knitting up samples. 

Coach Sue with me in my drumming hat

Meanwhile, on the actual water, coach Sue was putting me through my paces as a drummer-wannabe. To review, drummers don’t set the pace of a race, they follow the strokers who sit in the front row and do set the pace. So, the drummer not only has to keep a steady even with the stroker – although I would let my friends who were coxswains believe I was their equivalent. 

Although I’m rhythmically-challenged, I could follow the stroker if I focused completely. But as I had noted in races last year, a drummer is also an ad hoc coach for the duration of the race. I wanted to be inspirational, but every time I tried to inspire, I lost the beat. 

Despite my lack of rhythm, the team was generally supportive. Most of them admitted they were just happy they didn’t have to get up there. And they must have had some respect for how hard I was trying. I would sit in the car at stop lights trying to beat the dashboard along to the music on Sirius. I would practice counting (1-2-3-4-5, up-up-up-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, keep it strong) as I dozed off at night. 

I even googled dragon boat drumming to watch videos of drummers in action. I doubt many people have put so much effort into mastering dragon boat drumming. 

I was surprised to find a reasonable amount of drummer hating on the internet. Lots of paddlers complained they are just excess weight. In many race venues they are no longer required to actually drum. In a race setting, it’s hard to recognize the beat of your drummer from the others. Paddlers might do better just concentrating on watching the stroker and the feel of the boat. 

But dragon boat rules say each racing boat must have a drummer. However, the drummer doesn’t have to be on your roster, so they can be recruited from other teams or even off the street according to one tale I read.

After several weeks of practicing, coach Sue finally determined I was ready to drum in the CBDA Sprints. I’m not sure coach Lisa Marie would have agreed, but she would have at least given me an E for effort. And our team was still short of drummers. 

While I may not have been an unqualified success on my first outing, I didn’t seem to do any harm – we placed the same as we had placed the year before. And the dragonfly hat was a big hit, although I found the antenna kind of annoying to wear. 

As it would happen, I ran across our former drummer and her fish hat at the sprints. She admired the dragonfly hat, and I mentioned that I had an ambition to make a fish hat, but the pattern seemed intimidating. She said the pattern looked worse that it actually was and that I should try it. 

So with her blessing I started the fish hat the next day. 

Little Drummer Girl, Part 1

My second season of dragon boating started out with a nice surprise: We got new jerseys! And they were a big improvement on the old ones that were basic black with a small dragon on the left breast and our team name of the back. The new jerseys were mostly blue, with a large green dragon, and the logo from the Alameda City Flag.

Best of all, with the jersey I felt like a full-fledged member of the team.

The spring practices were going according to plan. After participating in the paddling clinic at the start of the season, I was confident about what worked and what didn’t work with my stroke, and I had a plan on how to improve. I was making one or two practices a week, despite a brush with hypothermia on a particularly cool evening.

But the day before the first Sprints race, coach Lisa Marie threw me a curve. As I was getting out of the boat after practice she said, “Would you mind drumming for me tomorrow?”

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I developed the utmost respect for drummers in my first racing season, so of course I was flattered. And I had no fear about the precarious drummer’s seat (a deterrent to many drummer candidates). But I don’t cope well with change on the fly, and I have no natural sense of rhythm.

But I couldn’t give up the chance, so I said I would be happy to try, but I would benefit from some practice. So Lisa Marie and I stayed for the 10:30 technical/new recruit practice so I could practice on the drum.

We don’t usually have the drum on the boat for practices, but before a race Dick and the other steerspeople drag it out of its home in Brett’s basement for a practice or two. While the drumming seat didn’t feel precarious, it was high and therefore conspicuous.

I hadn’t thought through the fact that in the drumming seat, by default I was kind of in charge of the boat since I was the only person all the paddlers could see. I thought Lisa Marie would take us out and at some point call for a race piece, and then I would drum the start. But no, once we got away from the dock, everyone was just looking at me, like ‘now what?’ Meanwhile, I kept hearing the voices of my piano teachers saying “you don’t know how to count!”

It was a bit of a hot mess. My fellow paddlers were kind, but I didn’t know what to do with them after counting a start. And I didn’t feel I had the expertise to come up with a plan. Several times I asked them if they wanted to take a break, which made Lisa Marie crazy frustrated. Not the way to demonstrate leadership.

Back at the dock, Lisa Marie recruited another would-be drummer (you should have at least two per race) who sat in the drummer’s chair at the dock, immediately projected a calm and controlling presence and was good to go. No practice on the water, no fretting, just good to go.  Some people are born leaders, some people have leadership thrust upon them, and some people, like me, want at least a two-year master course in leadership.

The next day at the race, Lisa Maria assigned the other would-be drummer to drum a race or two, but not me. Now, as it turned out, that was a good answer for me. Even if I had mastered drumming, the night before, one of my neighbors had had a medical emergency, and the EMT’s broke down his door and nearly shook my condo apart. I was up until 1:30 am talking to the EMT’s and the police. Not my normal pre-race routine of hydration and an early night.

Of course, Lisa Marie had no way of knowing about my lack of sleep. She was just looking for someone to drum (which is required in a race) and not spread fear or panic among the paddlers. That wasn’t me yet, but there was a month until the next race.