“Sinking is rare,” our paddling instructor assured us during our penultimate dragon boat training session at Mooney’s Bay.
It turned out I was asking the wrong question. I should have asked about crashing.
Our instructor that night did a great job of conveying this unnatural-feeling paddling technique that involves holding the paddle stiffly in your arms and rotating your spine to that your arms and the side of your body form the capital letter “A”. The paddling motion requires bending at the waist and pecking at the water like a contorted yellow-bellied sap sucker.
Did I mention that there were two practices for our team just before the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival? I attended 50 per cent of them, but that was the best I could do since I was a bit of a last-minute fill-in on a corporate dragon boat team that my friend Helen was on. I can say with some confidence that expectations were not high. After all, there wasn’t one carbon-fibre paddle among them. There were, however, four head cameras. Geek culture, ya gotta love it.
I’ll never forget standing under the tent in that staging area behind our lane number, inspired by cheers from the other teams that went something like this, “What are we here to do? Destroy!!!”
“Let’s cheer,” one of my keen teammates encouraged.
“I think we should just stand here quietly and abide with our awesomeness,” I suggested.
“We’re absorbing the power from their cheers,” suggested Matt, another reluctant cheerer on the team.
Cheer-absorption turned out to be a winning strategy for us in our second 500m race.
We pulled together and I could feel the boat flying beneath us as we stabbed our paddles into the water right on cue–that cue being our cox screaming his lungs out at us.
We did so well that we qualified for races on the second day, which was a mixed blessing because it involved an early start on Sunday. And it was then that our winning streak ended–if you could call one win a streak.
Our goal in the second race went from top-3 to let’s-try-not-to-be-last to–what-the-hell!
Just shy of the finish line, I caught a flash of yellow out of my peripheral vision. I turned my head and saw Boat 6 heading straight for our hull. My decades of endurance training enabled me to…scream very shrilly as they hit us with a sickening thunk.
Do you have any idea of how huge these boats look when they’re sideways? The impact send us careening into Boat 8, decapitated our dragon and just about knocked our cox into the colliding boat. I have no idea how our cox managed to cling to his perch, but he did and probably saved himself from breaking his collar bone.
Our steersman went straight into the drink and so did one of our generous, last-minute paddlers.
We rolled hard to starboard and took on water, but managed to right ourselves.
We didn’t win or sink. But you know what our team has? A helluva lot of video footage, that’s what.
I’ve embedded that awesome video that Alex put together. Enjoy!