Seniors’ mixed dragon-boating practice
Andy Rice // Associate Publisher
Trying new things is rarely easy and I’ve been told it gets harder and harder the older you get. That’s why I decided to check a few items off my bucket list this year, rather than waiting until I’m too cynical, too busy, or too overwhelmingly fear-crippled to do them.
I even agreed to write this column as a way to document my new and unfamiliar adventures. Unfortunately, I didn’t explain the pitch very well, and now my editors think I’m on a mission to embarrass myself twice a month for your amusement.
No, seriously, I’ve been supplied with a list of things about as far outside my comfort zone as possible and given specific instructions to report back with my experiences and observations. I’m even told that you can text the Voicebox with additional suggestions for my cruel and unusual punishment. Fantastic.
Over the next few months, I’ll likely be regaling you with first-hand stories involving everything from male body waxing to hot yoga classes – and for that I apologize in advance. But for now, let’s ease in with a little tale from Aug. 10, the night I joined my mother’s mixed dragon boating team for a practice. How hard could that be, right?
Let’s find out.
I arrived at the Powell Lake Marina with absolutely no equipment whatsoever. Good thing there was a sketchy-looking tool shed full of paddles and life jackets waiting there. “Is this communal?” I asked. It was, and soon I had everything I needed. That is, except for the patience, endurance and core strength required to make it through a two-hour practice…
After being introduced to the entire team, I realized very quickly that everyone there had about 30 or 40 years on me. They didn’t look the least bit worried. Meanwhile, I hadn’t even seen them out on the water and I was already intimidated by their matching shirts, waterproof seat cushions and hand-carved paddles. The Zunga Warriors were the real deal.
Someone named Helen took me aside to give me a crash course on how to climb in and out of the boat without dying. She also taught me how to hold a paddle and promised I’d figure out the rest as I went along. (That never happened.) Meanwhile, the remainder of the team was still in the parking lot doing flamingo stretches in front of a busy pub. They continued to do this for much longer than I felt was appropriate… and that’s coming from someone who wasn’t even in the pub.
After successfully boarding the boat, Ted, our steersman, began giving us a series of commands from the stern. Before long, we had paddled out onto the open water and Lynette, our coach, took over with some commands of her own. “We’re only going to take it up to 60 per cent tonight,” she said, as my glasses rode a waterfall of sweat down to the tip of my nose. “Aw, man,” replied the chorus of eager paddlers, ready to give her the extra 40 at the drop of a custom-embroidered Zunga Warriors hat.
To say they made it look easy would be an understatement. I was shocked at how high my elbows needed to be and how far my body had to lean toward the water in order to plunge the paddle vertically below the surface, backward, and then upward again in the span of a couple seconds. And don’t even get me started on the leg pushes and hip twists required to avoid fatigue and injury. This wasn’t just paddling, it was a full body workout.
Not even fifteen minutes into the practice and my technique had already regressed to the spastic level of a drunken canoer trying to fend off hornets. Helen was doing her best to get me back on track, but before long she fell silent. Initially I was worried I had drowned her in my wake, but I soon realized she was just saving her breath.
The team had given up on me. They were going to throw me overboard or make me walk the plank – I just knew it. Good thing my mother was there. Surely, she’d talk them out of it… or would she?
As a point of reference, my mother was sitting towards the middle of this 40-foot behemoth, paddling ferociously with the athletic prowess of someone in her teens. My two aunts were also on board, making it pretty much a floating family reunion.
When it comes to dragon boating, there’s a well-defined chain of command: people at the back of the boat are supposed to follow the mid strokes; the mid strokes follow the lead strokes, and theoretically everyone stays in time. For a while we did, but then the coach started getting fancy on us: “Just the women… Okay, now the even strokes…. Alright, how about odd strokes? …Great, now just the men…”
I’m pretty sure I either blacked out or vomited after that last command, but I’m told I made it through the entire practice without incident. As we prepared to disembark, I couldn’t help but crack a joke in my usual self-deprecating way… just in case.
“Well, that’ll be the last time I skip arm day at the gym,” I moaned.
“Wouldn’t that require actually going to the gym in the first place?” replied a familiar voice from the middle of the boat.
“Love you,” she said. “But hey, maybe you could try out the gym for your next column?”