Contributed by Barb Little
On sunny Aug. 18 Kalamalka Lake was deliciously warm, the sandy beach was hot, hot and so were the Dam Survivors, Revelstoke’s dragon boat team. Attending a newly resurrected Vernon dragon boat festival, the team found their inner warrior when the 20 paddlers dug deep in the final race to earn a hard won first place in the B Division. It was all the finer coming after a near disastrous collision.
The Survivors had scooped second in the first heat but shortly after their start in the second heat steersperson Elmer Shoji had to call for paddles out of the water so he could make a course correction and avoid a collision.
“I feel we were not given enough time by the race marshal to bring our boat into position for the start,” said Shoji. “But I’m so proud of the team, they were able to get their paddles back in and restart for a remarkable comeback.”
Some heats raced four boats abreast and others only three, but the boats run close to each other and it takes skill and strength to keep a dragon boat running straight. Determined not to be left behind, the Survivors overtook the boat they had narrowly missed and sailed into third.
Racing in the mixed category, which allows a maximum of twelve men, the Dam Survivors could have been disadvantaged with only five men.
Not so, said Coach Ginger Shoji. “It’s all about the timing of the strokes. We’ve beaten boats with as many as ten beefy men because we were paddling in time together and they were not.”
Coach Shoji also explains that focusing in the boat is critical. “No one is rubber-necking. All eyes are watching the lead strokes, synchronizing with their top hands as they rise and fall. Paddling in the front seat, leads set the race pace — ours is 68 strokes a minute.” That’s less than a second to move through the five elements of a technical stroke.
Watching dragon boats race is like watching giant centipedes on amphetamines slicing through the water. The loud urgent calls of the drummers in the fore of the boats can be heard on shore. They sum up the Zen of dragon boat racing, “Dig deep. Pull hard. Breathe! Together. Together. Breathe! Dig. Together. Dig. Finish now! As they expel the last of their air, paddlers cry out, grunt, make warrior sounds as they fight to the finish.
Most races are 500 metres and it’s pretty much over in about two-and-a-half minutes. The Dam Survivors best overall time is 2:18. The fastest boat in the Vernon Festival gobbled up the half a kilometre in 2:06.
As drummer Joan Eley led the team through a dry land visualization exercise before the final race, manager Jackie Goodman gently encouraged her disheartened paddlers, “You’re not going to go out there to win,” she told them. “I want you to focus in the boat, give it your all and just try to shave a couple of seconds off our best time today.”
According to some very excited Survivors, focus they did. Along with lead strokes Jennifer Wolney and Diane Andrews, Dolores Prescott, Barbara Little, Yolanda Barton and Vicki Brown were sitting in the front of the boat.
“We had our eyes in the boat and were gasping for air as we came across the finish,” Brown said. “When we all finally looked around we were shocked to see the other boats still behind us. That finish was exhilarating. I’m so proud to be a member of this team.”
“I think we all gave 110 per cent in that final. We definitely went home on a high,” said Little. “Now we’re super pumped for the two day festival in Penticton in September that wraps up our season.”