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Salem Dragon Boat Race 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012
Yesterday was the Salem World Beat Festival Dragon Boat Races.  


The first two races for each team were going to be 2-boat heats to determine the division and lane placement for the final race.  With 24 mixed teams represented, there were going to be 6 different divisions.  Our goal was to have the gold boat and the blue boat racing each other in the final. 

Blue boat, the fast boat, on which I was a last-minute substitute paddler, was up first for the mixed races.   We boarded the boats and paddled to the starting line.  The boat buzzed with energy and nerves as we all focused.  The officials lined up both boats, and off we went.  Our timing was spot-on, our power was excellent - it all flowed together.  The race was over quickly, it seemed, and we handily beat our competition, posting a time of 2.19.00, the third fastest time of that qualifying heat and less than a second off the fastest time.

As we unloaded, everyone but me gathered up for the post-race feedback.  I hopped in line with the gold boat crew, the crew I was officially on, who were already being marshaled into staging.  My benchmate was kind and let me paddle on the opposite side that I was on for the blue boat, so I wouldn't over-stress myself.  We boarded the boat, paddled to the lineup, and were off!  Much like the blue boat's race, we easily beat the other boat, posting a time of 2:21.55, the fourth fastest time of that heat.  I was gasping for air at the end, definitely feeling the rush and the exertion.  Our timing wasn't quite as good as the blue boat's, and our rate was higher, but we made a good showing for ourselves.


thanks to NWPaddler for this picture


Then time passed.  There were 8 boats for the women's-only division that had to race, plus plenty of other mixed races.  On top of that, the races had started a little late and the lunch break ended up coming a little early.  So I hung out with the team, trying not to snack too much (and to snack in a healthy fashion when I did.)  

Eventually, it was time for the second heat.  Again, I lined up with the blue boat and we went down for the race.  Again, we crushed the competing boat (the word was that we were ahead by 6 boat-lengths) and posted a time of 2:15.39.  It was still the third best, but it was just about a half-second off the best time for that heat.  Again, I had to jump in the gold boat immediately after the race, and by the time that race was completed with a winning time of 2:20.90, I felt completely spent.  I was leaving everything I could muster out on the water.  

After the second heats came the finals.  I watched our women's teams compete in the A and B divisions; they were both super-strong.  Many of those women were also on the mixed crews, so I knew I couldn't complain about the paddling on two boats.  In fact, I was having fun; the exertion was exhilarating and made me feel useful.  Watching the ladies race was intense; they had incredible power and timing.  The women's team (aka "Velocity") posted a 2nd place finish for the B division and a 1st place finish for the A division.  They were the fastest women at the race!

Then came game-time for the mixed crews.  There was a logistical issue because, with all four boats racing in the finals, there wasn't time to get marshaled for the second team.  Since they loaded and unleaded two boats at a time, there was a strong possibility that I'd be on the water when the boat I was supposed to be on was loading.  It was decided that, though I was only subbing on the blue team, I would end up racing in the blue final.  Strangely, I wasn't as thrilled as I thought I'd be.  I felt like I was letting the gold team down.  Our coach found a paddler to replace me on the boat, but I still felt like I should have been there.  As the blue boat stood on the dock, the B division race was coming to a finish, and I watched the gold boat participate in the closest finish I'd ever seen.  I couldn't tell who was first and who was fourth!

Our time came.  We loaded up for the A division final race.  The three teams ahead of us were all within a half-second of our time.  What made it fun was that one guy who steered for our women's boat was paddling for a competing team, and another boat had a bunch of people I've been on the outrigger with, so there was honest meaning when we said "good luck" to each other.  Our boat was the closest to the shore as we lined up... and we were off!  Our team had an amazing start.  Everything just felt right.  Our timing felt perfect, our power was incredible... it was working!  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boat next to us drift further away.  I remember thinking "that's odd, there's a boat in lane 3".  Suddenly I heard the sound of wood slapping.  I could tell, though I was highly focused on MY boat, that the two boats had come close enough for the paddler's paddles to hit each other.  I remember thinking "that'll slow them down", when all of a sudden I heard "let it run!", our command to stop paddling.  We stopped and sat up, confused.  Apparently, boats two and three had collided, then run into the bridge.  The race was going to have to be re-run.  I could barely hold back my frustration; would we be able to do such a perfect start again?

We slowly circled back to the start position and lined up.  We all knew that in this race, whichever team had the right start was likely to win.  The officials had us moving backward and forward as they lined us up - and our boat ended up moving backward when they called the start.  The boat in lane 3, however, was moving forward - and they jumped out of the water, taking a boat-length lead in front of everyone else.  We paddled hard, though.  Our timing bobbled halfway through the race, but we got it in check.  We were pulling as we put everything into the water... and then the race was over.  We took 2nd place, the second-fasted boat on the water that day, with a 2:20.19, merely hundredths of a second ahead of third place.  Being second was a rough emotion; we were genuinely happy for the winning team, yet we knew we didn't do as well the second time around as we did the first.  We could have won!

But the race was over.  Second place would have to do.  


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