Paddling is Bad-Ass, and Other Reflections From the Water

I survived my first week of water practice with the Amazon Dragons Paddling Club.

And I’m happy to say, I am loving it.

After our first practice on Sunday, I had so much energy.

(Sidenote: I was late for the half hour extra session for rookies at 8AM because I got pulled over downtown for making a left turn on red. I was completely lost and turned around. The officer warned me and then let me off. I attribute this to white privilege.)

Post-practice, I was not expecting to feel so good. I thought I wouldn’t be able to move, due to the low-sitting hinge the paddle technique requires and just because, well, we’re in a large canoe-type vessel and who knows how my body is going to respond, given my history with lower back pain. Anyhoo. I had so much energy, I came home from practice, took my dog to the park, went grocery shopping and came home and cleaned my entire apartment. I was like WHOA. I AM BUZZING. AND THIS IS THE BEST KIND OF HIGH I HAVE EXPERIENCED IN A LONG WHILE.

But while Sunday, we had the sunshine, Tuesday and Thursday, we started practice at 6PM which means, we watched the sunset and were paddling in the dark. The lights that guided us, outlining the city, were epic. Neon colors lit up the sky. And even though it was somewhere between 30-40 degrees, it didn’t feel that cold. Wool socks and waterproof gloves gifted to me by my buddy and Amazon veteran, DUDE, made all the difference. As well as a supportive bench mate and bench coach nearby. Hearing the pro tips coming from the bench coach behind me helped direct my movements. And there were so many pieces to think about!

So, paddling in a Dragon Boat, consists of 20-22 people with a caller (basically, the person giving you commands) and a tiller (the person who steers the boat). And while it may look easy and relaxed from afar, it’s not. The goal is to paddle in time with your other paddlers, pay attention to the person in front of you and perfect your technique so your stroke is efficient and set up for maximum speed. It’s a technical stroke and it takes coordination. And while there’s all that to think about, you also are being tested on your endurance. Because while you can stop paddling, if you need to, you don’t necessarily want to because then you aren’t pulling your weight and are in essence, letting your team down. It’s a lesson in staying focused, taking deep breaths and putting yourself in it until you are called out of it. Or told to rest. Which is the best word, ever, IMHO. Take it from me, a few minutes of paddling can feel like time is going by at the speed of glue.

GEAR ready to go: Shoutout to DUDE for letting me use her old paddle!

All this is happening while you are on an actual river. In this case, the Amazons practice, along with other Dragon Boat teams, on the Williamette River. There is something about being on the water that is absolutely invigorating. Working out is always awesome – for fitness and for changing your chi and enhancing your mood, but being on the water is a totally different experience. Take in the sights when you can and don’t Zen out which (hello, guilty!) because you will be snapped back into reality in a split second and it won’t be pretty!

In a lot of ways being a part of this team makes me think about my time at my queer feminist dojo in New York, Brooklyn Goju. The techniques take coordination (not my strong suit) and practice. The community of strong women that support each other (the Amazons are a lesbian team. Yes, I have lesbianic tendencies, but mostly I identify as queer, but that is beside the point) are welcoming and friendly. And then there’s the commitment to showing up. The assumption among the Amazons is that you are going to be at practice. If you’re not, make sure you mark yourself out on the handy app. The coaches do a lot of coordinating to make sure people have spots on the two to three boats we use. The acts of service on the team by its members is inspiring and it feels great to be part of an athletic club, that considers itself competitors, not competitive. And to be able to just show up and be told what to do by the coaches is a nice change of pace for me, considering all the big and little decision-making I do on the daily …

There’s practice three times a week and one is 8:30AM on Sunday. That means for me, a bit of a lifestyle adjustment. Which, I am game to do. I am excited to be part of the team and it’s been rare as of late that I walk around smiling. But all of a sudden, I’m finding myself doing that and I’m like, WHOA. AMAZONS!

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