Monday, October 6, 2014

Dragon Boat Racing October 4th 2014

Before reading the story please click on the upper right hand tab and vote on where my next trip should be. Thank you.

What the hell is Dragon Boat Racing? In fact what is a Dragon Boat.

"A dragon boat is a human-powered watercraft. They were traditionally made in the Pearl River Delta region of China's southern Guangdong Province out of teak wood (mostly imported from Pontianak, Indonesia) to various designs and sizes. In other parts of China, different kinds of wood are used to build these traditional watercraft. It is one of a family of traditional paddled long boats found throughout Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands. Currently, boats are being made for competitive purposes out of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials."

I have been all over Africa had never heard of a Dragon Boat, I guess I need to spend more time in Asia.

Last winter I was asked to Captain a Dragon boat for a Team called A Love For Life , they would be racing in the Philadelphia Dragon Boat Festival. I guess my reputation as a sailor has far reaching implication. I had never Captained a Dragon Boat, in fact I had never been on a Dragon Boat, in fact I had never seen a Dragon Boat, in fact I had no idea what a Dragon Boat was. I was just hoping it had a decent motor. I would later find out our boat had one of the best motors (engines) out there.

First step of being the Captain of a Dragon Boat Team is organizing the team. I was very lucky. Heather one of our Full Moon Running Club members and my Trenton Half Marathon Running Partner, put our team together.

Our team was made up of 20 paddlers, which I quickly realized was our engine, three alternates, and me, the Captain. There is also a steers person that steers the boat. This confused me, anytime I captained a boat I also steered it. The rules are the rules.

On our team we had 6 men, and 17 women (3 of them were alternates) as our paddlers. This qualified us for the mixed division. To qualify as a mixed division you must have at least 8 women on your boat. We would find out most mixed division boats have exactly that, 8 women and 12 men. What a mistake they were making. Clearly they had no idea how much pain a women that has given birth to a child is capable of enduring compared to a man.

We would end up having four practices. These practices would happen one in July, August, and two practices in September with the race October 4th.

Before I forget there is a reason that we are all doing this Dragon Boat Race a good friend recently passed away from pancreatic cancer and our team was one of five teams raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The foundation is called A Love For Life  and if you would like to donate please CLICK HERE.

Did I mention, I had never been on a Dragon Boat and I meet most of my team members at our first practice. Some I knew from the full moon running club, the rest I meet at practice. About half our
team had raced before and the other half were virgins to Dragon Boat Racing just like me.

I quickly learned two important factors about being a competitive Dragon Boat Team.

You must stay in sync. The old saying "you will do better if everybody is rowing in the same direction" is so true with Dragon Boat Racing. Not only in the same direction but at the same time.
Pain - or should I say the tolerance of pain. A Dragon Boat Race is 500 meters to help understand that distance 400 meters is about 1/4 mile, 800 meters is about 1/2 mile, 500 meters is about 1/3 mile. When racing you cover that distance in anywhere from 2:00 minutes (very fast) to 3:00 minutes (on the slow side). In order to be competitive you need to go all out for two to three minutes. In order to do that you need to tolerate pain and lots of it. Your muscles are screaming stop, your brain is telling you to stop, your heart is pounding and you gut must suck up the pain and push harder.

Our first practice went well except in one area, rhythm. One of the jobs of the captain is setting the pace of the paddle stroke. The Captain sits in the front of the boat facing the paddlers and counts, and the team paddles to the captains count. If the Captain goes to slow the boat will go slow, if the Captain counts to fast, the paddlers must shorten their stroke to keep up with the count and they lose power and the boat goes to slow.

Guess what, the team quickly learned what I already knew, I have no rhythm, and when I get excited I count real fast. At the end of each practice we do a practice race. At the end of the first practice race I was counting so fast if the paddlers would have kept up with me their paddles would have never touched the water.

My goal is to set the pace for the first two paddlers (Row one), all other paddlers time themselves off of the first row. In our first row were Amy DO NOT MESS WITH ME Windish and Melanie GET OUT OF MY WAY Davis. Not only were they VERY competitive they both had great timing. We decided that rather then them pace off my count, I would count off their pace. Life got much better after that quick adjustment.

We placed our guys in the center of the boat, leading the guys were Gene THE TANK and Greg I GOT IT Lewis. The guys were our engine or power. Their job was to get us off to a strong start and power back up for a strong finish. While some of the guys had more power than the women they could not tolerate the pain their bodies would have to absorb for the entire race. Only women can take that kind of pain.

After a few adjustments all our practices went well.

I am not sure I mentioned this, but reason that we are all doing this Dragon Boat Race a good friend recently passed away from pancreatic cancer and our team was one of five teams raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The foundation is called A Love For Life and if you would like to donate please CLICK HERE.

Christine Edmonds who runs A love For Life had a few social events during the time we were all gearing up for the race and to celebrate after the race. The first event was a team social where all the teams, family, and friends could all get together for some fun. I made A few of my world famous cheese cakes, here is a quick video of how they are made.

For the after race party I made my world famous chili, and here is that video.

Finally race day. Each team will race in three races. The first race is a qualifying race. You race the clock in this race. The outcome of this race will determine what division you are in, "A" division being the best, through "G" division being the worst. While you could sandbag and do poorly in your first race, get placed in a lower division and then win gold, that's not good sportsmanship.

At the race I learned a few more responsibilities of the Captain, you have to wear a Purple Dragon Custom, you have to have your face painted, you your nails get painted with purple nail polish. At least that is what Heather told me. Yet, I was the only captain dressed that way.

With half our boat being first time paddlers we were concerned about nerves. To combat that we decided our first race would focus on form, making sure we were all in sync, we had a great start and finished strong. Our goal was not to go all out, focus on staying in sync. We felt we should be seated in B flight and that was our goal.

Our first race was flawless with one exception our steers person counted, throwing the back of the boat out of sync. We quickly adjusted and won our heat with a time of 2:36 finishing first in our heat.

When not racing there is a lot of down time so we were treated to some of the women doing keg stands. Yes not only can the women take more pain they can drink more beer than the men.

Race two - we got off to a bad start, we qualified for B flight, now we wanted to make sure we made it to the finals, top 8 out of 16 boats. Strategy - go all out. At the start there was a cross wind when the gun went off we were at a 30 degree angle to the course. Our team got off on a powerful start and our steers person slowly got us on track and we caught 5 of the other boats for a third place finish and 7th place for our division locking up a slot in the finals.

We now had a few more hours of down time. We watch our other teams compete all doing well in their divisions.

It was now do or die time. I learned a new lesson about Dragon Boat Racing, actually it was an old lesson I forgot about. When lining up for the start if the boat is not straight the captain must raise his / her hand to make sure the starter does not start the race until all the boats are lined up properly. Guess
what it was my fault we had that bad start in our second race. Our goal for this race was all out and win the gold. As we looked around we could see we were out gunned, the other boats were teams of 12 men and 8 women all ready to race. None of their captains had Purple Dragon suits on.

Once we were lined up we had a great start, but the other boats were ahead. We quickly caught two other boats putting us in 6th place. Our engine did their job but it was not enough, I thought to myself this is going to suck. I kept pushing the team even though I thought there is no way. As I looked around I saw the other boats running out of gas and realized we had a chance (the men on the other boats could not take the pain), we were gaining and moved into 5th place catching 4th place. We had about 200 meters to go, the women all clearly in pain, were paddling harder than any man on the other boats. Our Engine went full throttle and we literal lurched in the water. The boat has a little dragon's tail and the momentum took our tail off. We were now in what I thought was forth place, but was actually third place. As we crossed the finish line I swore we were in third or fourth. I know the other boats thought, "what just happened to us, we got beat by a boat full or women and a captain dressed like a Dragon with purple nail polish.

Why could the ladies take the pain for the two and half minutes and men could not. Most of these women have given birth to several babies. These births took a lot longer than two and a half minutes and were a lot more painful. Our Ladies rocked, and our engine was the icing on the cake they gave us the power when we needed it.

We still had no idea what place we got, I thought fourth, maybe third, a few paddlers were sure we got third. We hit the scoring station and everybody went nuts, we got second a Silver Medal. As we collected our medals:

Texas Debbie Says, "I just keep laughing thinking about the other teams looking at us thinking seriously - there drummer has a dragon costume on and purple nail polish why are they even in the finals - and then we kicked their butt!"

Heather Says, "I hope you realize what we accomplished is insane. We only had 4 practices and never with our whole boat!!!!!!" Heather forgot to mention and a Captain had no clue what he was doing.

In the last 9 years I have traveled the world, I am often asked where is the best place you have been, I always answer the same, there is no best place, just great people. It is always the people that make my trips. I have to say it was clear today it was the people it was our team. They all (100%) gave 200%. They made it happen because they believed they could. This post is dedicated to the men and women on A Love For Life One (Won) as well as Kevin Edmonds who taught us all how to Live Life even in Death.

I am not sure I mentioned this, but reason that we are all doing this Dragon Boat Race a good friend recently passed away from pancreatic cancer and our team was one of five teams raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The foundation is called A Love For Life and if you would like to donate please CLICK HERE.




Unknown said...

Love you Oh Cap-e-tain!!!

Chris Edmonds said...

Thank you for your great story. Wonderful day, wonderful cause, but most importantly wonderful people.