Dragons on Parade

The Alameda DragonFlyers strut their stuff in the Lighted Yacht Parade

Oakland and Alameda hold a lighted yacht parade on the Oakland Estuary, where we practice, in early December. I’ve been a fan of the parade since long before I took to the water, so I was happy when ADF organized a dinner at a prime viewing spot for the 2015.

At that event I started to hear rumblings about entering our boat in the parade the following year. This struck me as a very marginal idea. It was cold out there. We don’t paddle in the dark, and those other boats were BIG. Furthermore, I suspected some of the skippers were imbibing a bit too much

But by the end of the 2016 season there was a genuine groundswell to enter the parade with our little boat.

A dragon boat in the yacht parade was not unprecedented. In 2015 the Oakland Renegades entered a beautiful boat. But they are, well, renegades. And there were a handful of even smaller crafts like kayaks and maybe even a SUP out there.

Brett took charge of the parade arrangements. This gave me some confidence because Brett is a veteran of the Coast Guard. As a rule, I don’t ask people in the armed forces what kind of work they do because it is either a secret, or gruesomely boring. But I figured Brett must have garnered some professional experience with boats of various sizes.

Those who didn’t want to paddle were going to reconvene at the restaurant with a view, and then the whole team would converge at team captain Carol’s. While my first inclination was to join the restaurant contingent, I eventually opted to join the parade. After all, as a fan of the event, what could be better than being out on the water?

Dick and Brett, and probably others, rigged up the boat with a lights along the gunwale and two spotlights to highlight the head and the tail. Brett obtained lighted arm- and head-bands meant for runners or cyclists to use at night. May brought sets of small lights we could affix to out paddles. Carol brought a collection of Santa hats.

We headed out just before sunset. Our dock is about two miles from the reviewing stand at the Oakland Yacht Club, so we had to paddle a fair bit before we got to the heart of the festivities. But when we did it was worth the effort. Even the boats that never leave their docks – which is the vast majority of boats – where celebrating, and we were met with cheers of “Merry Christmas, Dragon Boat!”

Some mariners suggested that we needed an outboard motor, many sang carols, one yachtsman was projecting the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” onto his sail, which I thought was an inspired idea.

We paddled past the reviewing stand and then made the loop down to Jack London Square, passing the Pasta Pelican restaurant where are teammates were gathered. We saw the Renegade’s boats, whaleboats and the stalwart kayakers.

After the Jack London Square loop, we headed back down the Oakland side of the Estuary, past the Renegades dock at the Jack London Aquatic Center and then headed home.

Once we hit Coast Guard Island, boat traffic diminished to a trickle. I was dressed in about 4 layers, but it was getting cold and wet. Then our lights went out and we were still about 2 miles from home.

No more merry cheers from the shore; no other boats with twinkling lights. Just a lonely dragon boat in the dark guided only by their head- and arm-bands heading for the Park Street Bridge and home.

At Carol’s, the verdict was that we would participate again next year, but maybe shorten our route and find a bigger generator.

Howling in the Rain

In the Bay Area, the dragon boating season wraps up with the Halloween Howl, a race put on by the Oakland Renegades, our neighboring team. Like the others, this race was held and Lake Merritt, and since it is a more casual event, we were able to stake out our preferred camp site.

This was my first “rain or shine event,” and was probably also my last. I like to think I don’t melt in the rain, but I kind of do.

The winter of 2016/2017 brought the Bay Area record amounts of rain, and it got off to an early start with a storm on October 30, race day. But as a medalist dragon boater, I was confident in my ability to manage a shower or two. I had acquired a waterproof shell earlier in the year and was anxious to put it to work.

As you might guess, the Halloween Howl also has a costume component. In 2016 our team did not have a theme or guiding vision for costumes, so we were on our own. While I might not be intimidated by the chance of rain, I am very intimidated by costumes. Halloween is not my favorite holiday, so I don’t have a lot of costume experience. When a costume is necessary, I revert to wearing the traditional silk Korean dress that a roommate gave me in college. But I was pretty sure a long billowing silk dress with a tight-fitting kind of bolero jacket, was not going to work while paddling.

I ended up cobbling together cat ears and a tutu. I’ve always wanted a tutu. So there I was in my very attractive cat ear-headband, my festive tutu, my basic black race outfit and a bright pink waterproof shell ready to take on all comers.

Two soggy paddlers; one with cat ears

It started raining just as we were paddling out for our first race. But I was ready, so I pulled on the hood of the waterproof shell. Alas, it covered my eyes. I later learned it was not “triple articulated” so the hood depth could not be adjusted.

I tried paddling blind for awhile, which is doable – there are several teams of low-vision paddlers. But I thought for the actual race I should give up on the hood, which I did. Somewhere along the line it actually started hailing. We survived the first race, but that was about all.

It was then that things started going down hill. At the dock I pulled the hood back on. It did not occur to me that by now it was full of rain water which promptly poured down my otherwise dry back.

Our favorite camp site is on a slight slope, which is nice on a clear day, but on a rainy day allowed the rain and mud to rush though the site. Worse yet, the canopies were filling with water and threatening to give way. We drained the canopies and sorted our gear into wet and dry piles. Then we waited for word from the Renegades about the status of the race.

The races where suspended during the deluge,and everyone waited for the weather to clear up. The Renegades had a canteen set up in one of the boat houses by the docks. There was hot coffee and chocolate and some pastries. Mostly it was a dry environment, so it was packed with soggy paddlers.

After an hour or so one of our smaller paddlers was deemed to have hypothermia and was sent home. We were all huddling in the middle of our tent with the rain pelting us from all sides while the team captains contemplated what to do. People were starting to say I appeared to be developing hypothermia. That judgment made me more determined to stay.

But I finally realized we looked like a team on Survivor that failed to build an adequate shelter and were struggling to stay dry. Eventually there was a small rebellion and people started leaving. At that point I was happy to head out. Mike, the leader of the Renegades, was holding out for clear weather that was expected to be coming within an hour.

Sure enough, just as I pulled up to my garage, the sky started to clear. But all I was up for was a hot shower. The shell without the articulated hood was put in the Goodwill pile, and my comely cat ears had been lost along the way. But I was proud that I stuck it out as long as the rest of the team.

Bring on the Bling!

The Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival was the race I had gone out to see at Treasure Island before I joined the team. In 2016, this event became homeless when it’s long-time venue at Treasure Island’s Clipper Cove became unavailable due to redevelopment.

The logical choice was to move the NCIDBF to Lake Merritt, but it’s not as spacious as TI (as we call Treasure Island), and it is part of a public park which has limited parking and has to remain accessible to the public. The organizers stalled for several months, but finally opted for Lake Merritt with the understanding that it would have to be a smaller event.

Unlike the recent friendly local dragon boat festival, we did not have the option of selecting our own campsite for this race. Camp sites were mapped out by the organizers and assigned to teams. And there were an amazing number of teams from as far as the Philippines.

These were some serious dragon boaters. There was also a parking lot full of vendors selling PFD’s, paddles, clothing, gloves, virtually anything a paddler would want.

Parking on-site was not an option. The neighbor who originally recruited me arranged for an Uber that we shared. We hitched a ride home the first day with One of the paddlers who came early to set up camp and thereby obtained a parking place. The second day we Uber-ed over again in the morning.

Knowing that the DragonFlyers are a recreational team, I didn’t have the expectation that we would place. It was just fun to be part of the pageantry of a race. But we weren’t embarrassing ourselves which was good enough for me.

My sister and her husband came for the second day. They were impressed when we made a big surge in the last third of the race. My BIL feted me for weeks which I appreciated, but I was still just happy to participate.

That all changed at the following week’s practice.

Back on our home dock while we were getting ready to head down to the boat, coach Lisa Marie announced she had medals to pass out. Medals!? We had taken third place in the Rec C division. I figured that’s kind of the equivalent of a consolation prize.

But when she put this substantial and well-designed medal around my neck (a first for sure), I felt like I had won the Olympics. I gave it a place of pride in my house. I took it to show it to my parents, I featured it prominently on my Christmas card.

A medal, on a real ribbon appropriate for wearing around around your neck. I’d never even seen a medal before. This experience definitely changed my thinking about racing. But alas the season was coming to a close.

It’s a Racing Sport

Nancy, the attendance tsarina for Alameda DragonFlyers, is the team’s liaison with would-be paddlers. She told me recently that she has to emphasize that our objective is to race, not just paddle around the estuary.

I must say, if I had connected with the team through Nancy, I would have been deterred by the emphasis on racing. I took up dragon boating because I wanted some exercise, the chance to tool around on the water and to meet new people.

But now I was on a team that races. I had put my toe in the water (well, my paddle) with the Sprints race, now it was time to commit to racing in a dragon boat festival.

DragonFlyers all in a row

The two-day festivals took the pseudo-camping experience of the one-day sprint race to a new level. We had to bring lunch, a contribution to the potluck, and some kind of diversion to keep yourself entertained between races. Since the mornings could be cold, additional layers or even a change of clothes were also advised. Since I’m gluten free, I had to bring additional food. And all of these items had to be packed in from the parking lot!

Dragon boat festivals – never regattas –  start with the first races at 8:00 am. We were advised by the team captains that we needed to arrive before 7:00. So I had to forego an entire weekend of sleeping in! Not only that, I had to rise before the sun, which is something I vowed not to do again after my days of commuting to work were over.

Anyway, I showed up on time, dragging tote bags of food, chair, PFD, paddle etc. The Oakland Dragon Boat Festival was held at Lake Merritt in nearby Oakland. As the crow flies, it is probably closer to my house than the sprints race in Alameda was. But psychologically, I’ve come to think of any trip off the island as a hardship.

Manny and Dick and other seasoned racers had arrived early and staked out a prime camp site under an oak near the marshalling area. I set up my chair and settled in. The rest of the weekend was about going where I was told to go when I was told to go there. And this time I had made sure to wear a generic black jersey.

The first day is all qualifying races, and it’s hard to know where you stand. Actually, under almost any circumstance it’s hard to know how your team is doing from the water. These races are won or lost by tenths of a second.

My family, in the form of my sister, brother-in-law, mother and niece, all came to visit for awhile and see the rare sight of me doing something both athletic and competitive. They were duly impressed.

But what I took took note of in this race was role of the drummers. I didn’t even notice the drummers at the sprints race, given my complete and total focus on staying in the boat. But this time they stood out.

As the name implies, the drummer sits at the front of the boat and bangs a drum in time with the strokers, who sit on the first bench and set the stroke rate. The drummer also calls the stroke rate or shout encouraging words.

As Coach John likes to point out, drummers are strictly ceremonial. They are only used in races. But drummers are required for races. They don’t actually have to be on a team’s roster, so it’s not unusual for team to swap them out.

But that is not to say they aren’t important. I felt I paddled much better with a confident and commanding drummer on the bow. A commanding drummer certainly took the edge off my nerves while sitting at the starting line.

So I survived my first weekend of racing. My family was very impressed, particularly my brother-in-law who famously told his daughters, “Auntie Cassie camps at the Ritz-Carlton.” But I was impressed with the drummers. There seemed to be more and more layers of this dragon boating experience to explore.

Paddles Up!

The biggest financial commitment you can make to dragon boating is buying your own paddle. That is unless you decide to buy your own boat.

There aren’t a lot of dragon boat superstores. Nor is there a dragon boat section at REI or even West Marine. So dragon boat vendors make the rounds of the various races during race season. And off season, they reach out to teams or coaches who run clinics.

The Alameda DragonFlyers own an assortment of paddles (they come in different lengths), but they are standard wooden paddles that are much heavier than the spiffy carbon fiber or hybrid versions out there. And the time had come that I wanted my own paddle.

Conveniently, a paddle manufacturer showed up one day at one of our early season practices. I had experimented with different sizes and settled on a 46-inch. There was a wide selection paddle types – well, three to be exact, but it felt like a lot. I settled on the Crossfire, with a carbon fiber blade, but a fiberglass shaft. The fiberglass shaft provides more flexibility which seemed like a good idea. It was also the cheapest, but still over $200.

I continued to make due with the garden kneeler as a butt pad. Dragon boats have wooden or fiberglass benches, and I don’t have much natural cushioning. The garden kneeler works well because it’s the right depth for the bench, and you can slide the handle over the shaft of your paddle making it easy to carry.

But before too long the garden kneeler failed me. On a particularly slippery bench it slid out from under me, and I tumbled backwards off the bench. The good news in this case was that I was in the back row, so I didn’t land in anyone’s lap. But I did get to ride out the rest of the “race piece” in this rather unbecoming position.

Another key piece of dragon boat equipment is paddling gloves. Once again, these are not dragon boat specific. The shafts of the paddle get wet and slippery, so gloves help you keep your grip. They also provide a little protection when you bang your thumb against the gunwale. I started with boating gloves from trusty West Marine. But these started to fail because they are not meant to be in the actual water.

Another strategy to improve your grip is the use of grip tape. This is a dragon boat specific product and is sold by the paddle companies. I resisted the idea of grip tape because I didn’t want to mar the simplicity of the new paddle. Also, there is an art to applying the stuff, and I didn’t want to make hash of it.

But at our next big race I invested in a foam contoured butt pad, a pair of paddling gloves (thanks to the popularity of stand up paddle boarding these are easy to find), a tip guard for the paddle, and I even let the paddle vendor apply grip tape. All these items, except the gloves, were reddish in color to coordinate with my orange/purple paddling wardrobe.

Off to the Races

From my bench in the middle of the boat I was getting to know some of my fellow dragons. David taught me how to avoid hyperventilating and recounted the history of dragon boating. I won’t attempt to retell that history here, but it reminded me of the Iliad.

Simon talked up the upcoming Sprints race and encouraged me to participate. I also met Nancy, who coordinates attendance at practices, and Brett, one of the steerspeople who admired my A’s Spring Training 2001 cap. But there were still a lot of people to sort in my mind.

Teams often divide themselves into pairs of bench mates. Bench mates are optimally similar in size and build. This phenomenon did not help me. It took most of the year for me to tell the difference between Nancy and Linda and Marcella and Lori. It didn’t help that there were two Lori’s (although one is a Laurie) and three Amys.

It helped that many team members got coffee at the Peet’s near our dock after practice and visit for awhile at the tables outside. I joined in primarily because I am a huge Peet’s fan (despite the fact I don’t drink coffee), and I figured the more time I spent with these people the better my chance of putting names to faces.

Between Simon and David on the boat and the coffee drinkers, I was persuaded to join the Sprints team. A big selling point is that the Sprint races are only 250 meters, half the length of a regular race. It helped that the Sprints were being held in Alameda out at the old Seaplane Lagoon, only a couple of miles from home. It didn’t help that we were suppose to show up by 7 am.

I was ill-prepared for race day, which bares a lot of similarities to camping – an activity I avoid at all costs. I understood that a camp chair was required. Since I’m very fair skinned, I found one on Amazon with its own canopy. Then there was a contribution to the potluck lunch. This is tricky because I’m gluten free, but at least food is within my comfort zone.

Prepping boats with heads and tails for race day

My big faux pas turned out to be in the area of wardrobe. Dragon boat teams wear team jerseys to race. But when I started with the team, the Alameda DragonFlyers were in the midst of a rebranding effort. That meant they weren’t ordering anymore of the old jerseys, and the new jerseys were a year off.

The default was to wear a plain black jersey. But I didn’t get that memo. I showed up to race day at 7 am in a charming pink jersey and blue tights. Linda was coordinating the race, and she was not amused.

My major accomplishment for the day was that I didn’t fall out of the boat, I coped with the porta-potties and I didn’t get sunburned. The race-day adrenaline resulted in a frenzy of paddling and splashing like I had never seen before. The team actually won second place in the Rec C division.

By the end of the day I was tired, salt-encrusted and longing for the comforts of indoor plumbing. On the upside, apparently my participation didn’t particularly hold back the team. Maybe I would be up for the Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival coming up in the Fall.

The Big Girl Boat

Dragon boat season gets underway in each year in March. Once Daylight Saving Time kicks in, evening practices are back on the schedule – even if Saturday mornings are colder.

Returning to practice in March, I immediately realized my six weeks or so of practices in the Fall did not translate into muscle memory come the Spring. So I returned to the novice boat on Thursday evenings. The novice boats were once again coached by Coach John, who mixed technique and encouragement with inspiration.

During these evening practices I had yet another revelation. My paddling wardrobe consisted of my old running gear, some of which was older than some of the new recruits. So I decided it was time to invest in new, coordinated paddling attire. I spent much more than I like to admit at Athleta in Emeryville, but my orange and purple palette was coordinated and all manufactured in the current century.

After a few weeks of Thursday practices, I switched over to the regular Saturday morning practice. In addition to John, we had two primary coaches: Lisa Marie and Sue. And sometimes Linda would pitch in. Most Saturdays we can muster two boats for a practice – a dragon boat needs a minimum of 12 people.

As a newbie I was generally put on Lisa Marie’s boat. She’s the ‘tough coach’, as I quickly learned. If you don’t believe me, here’s what she posted on Facebook recently:

While I thought my paddling was acceptable on John’s boat, I quickly learned it was not acceptable on Lisa Marie’s boat. She would come back to where I was sitting and manhandle me into all sorts of positions that seemed unnatural.

In the coming weeks, with her hovering over me while adjusting my stroke, my relationship with her evolved into my most intimate relationship with a woman – aside from the woman at the security checkpoint at the Frankfurt airport.

While dragon boat paddling looks simple enough from afar, it can take years to master the stroke. And it’s not only about your stroke: to be effective you have to be in sync with the other 19 paddlers. But in my early days I felt I was being singled out for abuse. I resented it most when Lisa Marie would call out for me to pull out for ten strokes. My thinking was I just needed enough time to figure this stroking thing out. I’m a smart girl after all.

Rotate, lean forward 5 degrees, foot drive, square shoulders, reach, power, timing, head up, inside elbow up, bury the blade, breathe – but don’t over breathe, watch the stroker… it was a lot to take in.

In retrospect I realize paddling is like speech therapy. I was in speech therapy for years as a kid because I pronounced my ‘r’s as ‘w’s, which would be find if I lived in Boston, but I didn’t. Anyway, after about three years of drills and exercises, it finally all fell into place. I was just going to have to give it time.

To The Water!

During the racing season, the Alameda DragonFlyers devote one practice a week to welcome newcomers. Novices can come to up to three practices without any commitment or fees to see if dragon boating is for them.

Coach John takes charge of the novice boats which also include a handful of experienced paddlers. Orientation starts on the shore where John and another paddler demonstrate the stroke while sitting in a chair. A big obstacle for new paddlers to overcome is that the dragon boat strokeis not like rowing or paddling a canoe where your arms do most of the work.

First a land-based demo

Since dragon boating is a racing sport, we need more power than even the burliest paddler could deliver through his or her arms. We need to be powered by all of those big muscles in your core and your butt. So the arms stay relatively still holding the paddle and you rotate your body to bring the paddle through the water.

Now, full disclosure time, my athleticism has been confined to jogging around Lake Merritt and going 3 miles on the elliptical in the gym. I have never participated in a team sport outside of phys ed, and in that case I was relegated to “coordination class”, which is, to put it bluntly, remedial PE.

So sitting on the shore listening to John talk about engaging all of these core muscles I started to worry that dragon boating wasn’t going to be like a leisurely kayak ride around the estuary. I seem to have come to this revelation rather late, since the week before I had watched teams from around the world compete furiously at the Nor Cal race. But I had convinced myself that this “recreational” team would be my speed.

I had been advised not to wear jeans or cotton clothing that would be slow to dry, so I wore my running tights and a half-zip top from Nike. Us novice paddlers needed to be fitted with a PFD(personal floatation device — dragon boat speak for a life jacket) and a paddle. And everyone got a bottle of water.

As we back paddled away from the dock, I realized I was in this for the duration. I’m much more comfortable with any activity I can bail out of at my own discretion. Welcome to team sports.

Once away from the dock John (who like all dragon boat coaches sits on the bow of the boat facing the paddlers) explains that we are going to practice some basics, but promises this outing will provide the seasoned paddlers with “a good workout”. Again, I contemplate the possibility of swimming to shore.

Coach John demonstrates the correct stroke

Because an efficient dragon boat stroke is not intuitive, my first several outings involved a lot of me being shifted around by the coaches into what seemed like unnatural positions. Stretch this way, tilt that way, head up, arm higher, legs straight and braced against the foothold, hips to the gunwale.

We paddled for a few minutes, and then rested, drank some water (hydrate since we are athletes), and listened to John discuss the stroke in more detail or extol the virtues of the sport of dragon racing. The rest stops gave me the chance to look at the shoreline and water fowl and try to figure out where we were in relationship to terrestrial landmarks.

The good news is that I survived about an hour on the water. And the next day I was thrilled to find I was stiff through my abs, and not my arms, which was a sign I was doing something right. So I committed to another week, and started thinking about building out my dragon boating wardrobe. A sport can’t be all bad if it requires a new wardrobe.

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.

The Dragon Lady Within

A few years ago I was talking informally with a group of medical device investors about the potential for technology to increase human longevity. The one guy said, “but it’s not that we will be living longer, it’s that we will be old longer.”

These words came back to haunt me after I hit the half-century mark. I see friends and family my own age or younger being hit with cardiovascular problems, joint degeneration and diabetes. My parents are both still alive and in their eighties. They both have had heart problems that are being treated but quality of life-wise they are plagued with a million little ailments. Literally death by a thousand cuts.

Last year I turned fifty-five, the age when I qualify to take my pension and for seniors’ pricing at some museums. To sum it up: officially old. I am in good health and quick to advocate that 60 is the new 30, but I started to worry that that’s not going to be enough.

I’ve always been more of an indoor kind of girl. I was actually relegated to something akin to remedial phys ed in elementary school: what they called “coordination class”.

In my twenties I took up running modestly. I’d run around Lake Merritt or do 5 miles on the treadmill. When I developed bone spurs in my feet, I switched to 3 miles on the elliptical. When my neighborhood gym closed down, I tired different facilities but none were quite as convenient and the routine became boring.

After I moved to Alameda last year, I resolved to find a new fitness regime. Living on the marina, I felt a bit of an obligation take up a water sport. Since owning a sailing yacht is probably not in the cards, I thought about paddle boarding but it looked hard on the knees. Kayaking was another option but seems kind of solitary.

Back when I was running around the Lake I would see a dragon boat team practicing and thought someday when I have more flexibility in my schedule that’s something I should do. Dragon boats, for the uninitiated, are long narrow boats manned by up to 20 paddlers sitting two abreast. And the boats have a dragon head and tail. The group on the Lake appeared to be mostly female and middle-aged so it didn’t look too intimidating.

So when a neighbor invited me to join the local dragon boat team, I jumped at the idea. I went out to the big international dragon boat festival on Treasure Island last September and signed on soon after.

Now in all honesty, dragon boating turned out to be much more work than I expected. The stroke is not the most natural or obvious movement and some of these people are seriously

competitive – by my experience – even on our “recreational” team. On the upside there was the opportunity for me to shop for all kinds of dragon boat gear. Shopping is an activity much closer to my wheelhouse.

Since I started late in the season, I missed the novice initiation in the Spring. So I was mostly faking it until it got too cold for me to venture out on the water on Saturday mornings. But I wasn’t hitting people with my paddle and I wasn’t splashing too much.

This Spring I took to the water again. This time around with the help of the coaching staff I just finished my first race and our boat came in second!

In the quest for the fountain of youth people have been driven to try things much more drastic than joining a dragon boat team. While I have no illusion of turning back time, at least I might be able to extend my active middle years a bit by summoning up my inner dragon lady.

Paddles up!