The Dragon Awakens

In the last couple of years many of my peers took the first step towards retirement by leaving the Silicon Valley for more peaceful and less pricey environs where they could work remotely. Most moved out of California, but I settled on moving across the Bay to the city of Alameda.

Alameda is an island city just to the south of Downtown Oakland. It’s close to San Francisco, but has a small town ambiance that has long vanished in the rest of the Bay Area. After an epic house hunt, I bought a condo on the water with views from every room and just enough space for a home office.

Right out my door is a boat marina. After a short time of gazing at the boats all day, you start to think you need to own one. Since I didn’t make millions on stock options during my time in the Valley, a yacht was out of the question. I explored kayaks and stand up paddle boards, even parasailing. But the gear can get pricey, and they are all pretty solitary sports for a girl who is new in town. I also thought about crew teams, but rowing can be hard on your knees at my age.

Enter the Dragon

Then a neighbor introduced herself and asked if I wanted to join a dragon boat team. “Yes,” I said, “I do want to join a dragon boat team.” And so I started on my way to becoming an Alameda DragonFlyer.

I was aware of dragon boats from my younger days when I lived in Oakland and would see them on Lake Merritt. In contrast to the ungainly whale boats on the lake, the dragon boats were long and elegant. The crews seemed to include plenty of middle aged women, so I filed dragon boating away in the back of my mind as an option for my later years.

A dragon boat is a 40-foot long boat paddled by 20 people sitting 2 abreast with a steersperson at the rear and, during races, a drummer on the bow. The boats can be wood, fiberglass, even cement, or a combination of any of the above.

Based on my observations of the boats on the lake, dragon boating seemed like a relatively leisurely pursuit. That was my first mistake. Dragon boating is a racing sport. And shortly after my encounter with the neighbor, the largest race of the year was being held at Treasure Island. So I went to observe.

The Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival is one of the biggest events of the dragon boat racing season. That year it took place at the Seaplane Lagoon at Treasure Island — another island in the Bay that was recently vacated by the Navy. The festival seemed to stretch for blocks and blocks. There were teams from up and down the West Coast as well as from Asia. A pair of announcers called each race over the PA. A flurry of boat loading and unloading and marshalling of teams seemed to be going on in all directions.

I visited the DragonFlyers camp which to an outsider seemed equally chaotic. But I could assertain that the team mostly was made up of people like me  —  40 to 60 trying to keep active and healthy.

So despite the intimidation factor of the huge event, I was ready to give it a try. After all, it was a new chapter in my life, so what better time to try something different.

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