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.