My first dragon boat practice

Last night, Alex and I headed down to the Glenmore Reservoir. Reasons were two-fold: One was to have a picnic, a little meal on the edge of the largest body of water in the immediate area. The other was for Alex’s dragon boat practice.

The weather wasn’t particularly good (nor was the fact that the entire city was going gonzo for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, tying up traffic something awful), but we still managed to make the most of the ham and cheese sandwiches, potato salad, and fruit that we’d brought with us. The breeze was cool, tempered with a few spots of precipitation. But we still managed to eat most of our food without extreme difficulty. (On a sunnier day, I can see this area being significantly more attractive.)

Leaving some of the fruit behind for post-practice, we ducked over to the McDonald’s at Glenmore Landing (a small strip mall on the eastern shore of the reservoir) for apple pies. It was my first McDonald’s apple pie. They’re not bad. I don’t want to know what’s in them, though, since I’d probably feel the urge to go into a full cleanse to get that gunk back out of me.

Soon, we were at the boat dock, waiting for the rest of Alex’s team to show up. The game would keep many of them away, leaving only about eight people out of the usual 20-person team. Which is how I got sucked into all of this.

I was a decided spectator. I had thought about doing dragon boat racing when I lived in Vancouver, but the team never really took off in the last year I was able to apply. Until I’d met Alex, I didn’t even know there was racing in Calgary! But sure enough, every August, there’s a festival on the reservoir. Apparently, it’s quite large. And unless things change between Alex and I (highly unlikely), I’ll get to find out what it’s like.

The current question, though, is whether I’ll get to see it as a spectator or as a participant.

With so few people out, I was asked to join them on the water. (I had planned to listen to the game in the car.) I was in the process of politely refusing when I saw the expectant smile on Alex’s face.

Hook, line, and sinker.

Bundled up, lifejacket on, and paddle in hand, I followed the others down to the long, white canoe at the dock. Dragon boats are long — 20 people rowing, one helmsman, and one “drummer”. This means the boats are also fairly tall on the water (until you get people into them, anyway). I was positioned slightly ahead of middle, seated next to Moustafa, a veteran from last year. Once we were all in, we headed off onto the lake. And a lot of back pain.

Don’t worry, I didn’t injure myself. It’s from the rowing. Dragon boats aren’t paddled like a canoe. When you paddle a canoe, you look forward, and paddle with your arms and upper body. The motion is simple, and unless you’re paddling hard, there’s not too much to it. Dragon boats, on the other hand, are quite something else. To maximize power, you need to hold the paddle with straight arms (ideally, when you’re holding the paddle correctly, your body and paddle form an ‘A’, with torso and arm creating one side, lower arm creating the cross, and paddle forming the other side). You stroke by rotating your arms opposite to rotating your torso. It’s a bit weird to explain, but once you see it, it makes sense.

And it hurts. Especially when you’re under power. Which were were. Several times.

But the technique isn’t too hard to pick up. The trick then is timing. You need everyone in the boat to have the same timing for strokes. When people are out of stroke, you lose power. The most power is gained when everyone strokes at the same time. It wasn’t hard to tell just in our practices. Our coach, Albert, had the most power, and was something to behold. He’s been doing it a few years, though, so his strength is not to be unexpected.

I was tired by the time we got into shore. Like with many things, I pushed myself quite hard. I hope my back doesn’t avenge itself on me tomorrow, though. (Yoga might help, though, if it does.) But I think I’m getting addicted. I can see myself doing this. I don’t really know why, other than it’s fun.

Certainly beats just watching.