My arms ache – they’re not just sore, they’re heavy and crippled now. I can’t get the sting of salt water out of my eyes, and every time I lick my lips I taste the ocean. It’s my first attempt at dragon boating, and it’s pretty obvious I’ve never done this before.
“It looked like your first time,” Tom Arnold, head coach of the Gorging Dragons tells me after two hours on the water with Vancouver Island’s top high performance dragon boat team. “We always tease new paddlers who get in the boats and want to show off their biceps and make it an arm exercise. What you see with the top paddlers is it’s a whole body movement sport. They’re using a lot of core, they’re using a lot of lower body.”
It wasn’t my intention to “show off” – yeah right! – my biceps, both of which ran out of steam in the warmup. It just looks like an arm sport from an outsider’s perspective.
Drummer Amanda Carl, who tonight sits at the bow of the 20-person boat making calls, helps keep the team focused and in unison. It’s impressive watching and feeling this powerful synchronicity from inside this boat alongside 19 athletes.
And the 20th person, me, fumbles his way through power and rhythm exercises, until Arnold, from the motorized coach’s boat beside us in the waters below the Bay Street Bridge, tells me to switch spots with Carl.
Sitting in the drummer’s seat, I look down the line of rowers as they paddle hard back to their home dock in Vic West. Like a series of pistons cycling ‘round and ‘round together, the Dragons’ bodies and arms move in skilled unison to push the boat with speed through the Gorge Waterway.
“Dragon boating is the ultimate team sport. Being in a dragon boat and having all 20 people hitting perfectly in sync, and the power and the energy that comes from that – there’s something so intoxicating about that feeling,” Arnold says.
That feeling sounds euphoric. But all I feel is aches and pains from a night making rookie mistakes.
By Kyle Slavin