By Megan Cliff:
“Paddles up,” the drummer yelled as I placed the paddle one inch above the calm water. “Take it away!”
[pullquote]As I attempted to keep synchronized with the other rowers, I felt completely lost. Muscles I didn’t even know existed burned, and I felt like an awkward fish out of water.[/pullquote]
My paddle entered the water and pulled a large stroke, helping to propel the boat forward. The large dragonhead at the front of the row-boat seemed intimidating enough, let alone the amount of power needed to row it. I immediately regretted getting myself in to this.
As I attempted to keep synchronized with the other rowers, I felt completely lost. Muscles I didn’t even know existed burned, and I felt like an awkward fish out of water.
“The goal is [to move] the boat together as a team to develop the rhythm of the boat,” coach Angela Toy said. The idea seemed completely foreign to me.
On this crisp Saturday morning, a time I usually use to procrastinate on homework or catch up on missed television episodes, I was engaged in a completely different activity: dragon boating. Heading into the free lesson offered in Foster City every Saturday at 10:30 a.m., I equated dragon boating with what I saw on shows like “The Amazing Race” and “Eye on the Bay”. However, dragon boating is in no way a modern development.
Originating in ancient China over 2000 years ago, dragon boating is a team sport that involves 20 paddlers, a steersperson and a drummer. Dragon boating finally made its way to the Bay Area in 1996 when the San Francisco Bay Area Dragon Boating Team (BAD) was created as part of the Pacific Dragon Boat Association. BAD sponsors both national and international competitions, and has competed against teams from all around the world. BAD has four to six teams that usually compete in races, which include a beginners crew, high school teams, mostly from Lincoln High School, a co-ed crew, an all-men crew, an all-women crew and a crew consisting of people 40 years old and over.
As exhilarating as dragon boating is, if a team does not work together, races will not end in a win. A paddler must firmly grasp their paddle, maneuver his body back and forth with each stroke (an action I constantly received correction on) and keep in time with the rowers in the first row. The rower must also focus on their breathing to keep up and stay in time.
Concentration is also key. As the lesson progressed, I learned to ignore the ice cold water numbing my hands and focus on the calls made by Coach Toy: “Up, up, up,” to speed up the rate of each stroke; and “let it ride,” the cue for relaxation, the easiest and probably the most appreciated call a dragon boat team hears. By the end of the lesson, although my legs felt noodley and my heart was pounding, I was pumped up. Dragon boating is the type of sport that brings out competitive spirit and the desire to push oneself out of one’s comfort zone. I would definitely encourage anyone interested to check out this racing team and other dragon boating opportunities at bayareadragons.org.