Dragonboating In my recent quest for the next great job, I have been reminiscing about old work situations in order to know what to look for in that future great job. While conjuring up experiences both strange and boring, I thought about the time I went dragonboating in Sydney Harbor.
I was in Sydney, Australia in April 2002. I was hanging out, doing the tourist thing, keeping out of trouble and staying with my friend, Charlotte (hey Charli!).
Charlotte and I became friends in New York during some sessions at the Belgium Bar on West Fourth. She then moved back to Sydney, and I visited her while taking a break from my great New Zealand adventure.
In Sydney, Charlotte was (and still is) on a dragon boat team. While I was there, I attended the annual dragon boat award dinner. I think I did a Fosse-like dance with a paddle to "Lady Marmalade" with the women's team. Oh wait! Oh gosh, I did. Paddles were flying everywhere, but nobody got hurt.
As the evening wore on, I got a lot of "Jan, you should come out with us on the boats" and "You'll luv it, Jan".
Sure enough. One day, I went out with team. Charlotte didn't come. Knee injury.
I like boats. I grew up sailing with my grandfather in Newport. I've canoed, kayaked, rowed. When I was a camp counselor, I helped kids get over their row boat fear. I feel confident in a lot of different boats. Dragonboating. How hard could it be?
Dragon boats are long, narrow boats that look like long canoes. They move because several rows of two people are paddling. At the stern, someone stands and steers. At the bow, a caller shouts "stroke! Stroke! Stroke you lazy bastards!" Because the Caller had to focus her attention on us grunts, she never saw where we were going and had to trust that we wouldn't crash into anything.
Getting into the boat was not a problem. Along with some less experienced paddlers, I was in the back which meant I was one of the first people on. I sat next to a girl who had paddled once before. Behind us was a more experienced guy with a bench to himself, and behind him was the steering guy.
It was a nice sunny day. I had my paddle. I was in Sydney Harbor. The people were nice. The boat was all right. Wooohooo! Bring it on!
More and more people got on the boat, so there wasn't any space to lie out and get a tan. Not a problem. As the boat sat lower and lower in the water, I wondered if we would be able to move. However, other people didn't seem worried about that, so I had no worries. I was trying a new thing. It's important to try new things.
At last, the Caller jumped on, and our packed subway car pulled away from the dock. Stand clear of the closing doors.
First, we did some back-paddling and turning. I knocked my paddle against the paddle of the guy in front of me. Oooops! Sorry. I did it again. Oooops! Sorry. After the third sorry, I held my paddle up. At that moment, he held his paddle up too, so we were sync then.
The Caller had been so nice on shore. She was peppy and enthusiastic but not annoying. She had been happy to meet me and excited that I showed an interest in dragonboating. Out on the water, the Caller suddenly turned into the evil drill sergeant from every army movie. Forget John Wayne. Forget Louis Gossett Jr. They were girlie men next to her.
"I want 200 strokes. GO!"
And we started paddling. On the first stroke, everyone shouted "ONE!". Then everyone went silent. Then SEVEN! Then TWENTY!
200 strokes. Okay Jen. You can do it. Remember your strength training. Isolate muscle groups. Use the core. Power. Power. Just do what the guy in front of you does. Don't drag the paddle or the guy behind you will hit it. Power. Power.
Jesus Christ, this is a lot of work. I looked at the girl next to me. She looked like she was stirring a caldron.
Okay, other people are paddling. Maybe I could just fake paddle a few strokes.
Everyone brought their paddles up. For the first time in 200 strokes, I looked around. We were in the middle of the harbor. Yikes. We've come a long way. I knew we had been moving, but I had no idea how fast we were going.
We had gone fast, but I hadn't felt the speed. I wasn't sure if I liked the idea of doing all that work and feeling no benefit from it---no headrush of speed, no adrenaline surge from muscles firing up. Just paddling.
And those 200 strokes were just a warmup.
"Now we're doing 400 double time." The Caller shouted. We, what we, you don't have a paddle in your hand, Lady.
"Try to keep us away from the other boats." The caller said to the Steering guy.
"Paddles up! Go!" she shouted.
And we started paddling really fast.
393 strokes to go.
I wanted to shout 388, but I figured it would confuse everyone.
We paddled fast. Salt water splashed on my lap.
I thought of Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur. There's that scene where he's a slave, and the guy is banging on the drum. Then the guy starts beating the drum faster and faster. Boom-Boom! Boom-Boom! Why don't we have a drum?
There's no room for a drum.
We were only a quarter of the way there. This sucks. All you do is paddle. Stroke after stroke.
Sure, there were people on this planet who only did this day in, day out. What an existence that must be. Paddling here. Paddling there. Paddling everywhere.
I'm a girl from the first world, and I like it.
I like sitting on sailboats with one hand on the tiller while the sails wave in the wind. I like paddling as fast or as slow as I want in a kayak.
This is kind of zen. You can let your mind wander and think deep, profound thoughts. Okay, thinking deep, profound thoughts. . . . . . .
Sydney Harbor has a ferry public transport system. Ferries will take you wherever you want to go. They range in size from big to huge---especially when you're sitting in a tiny dragon boat.
Suddenly, we were next to a ferry. Suddenly, the ferry started to move. Suddenly, we paddled much much faster.
I was motivated. I didn't want tomorrow's headline to be: "American Tourist Drowns in game of chicken with Ferry". I didn't want my last words to be: "Damn you Crocodile Dundee! Damn you!"
We veered away from the ferry. Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Danger! Excitement! The Indiana Jones theme played in my head.
I even paddled 401.
Everyone leaned forward on their paddles. I looked down at the clear blue Sydney Harbor water. We weren't that far from a marina. I could swim it for it. Just throw myself over the side and swim for it. Make it to the docks, then dry land, then freedom.
"Water's nice and clear today." The guy behind us said.
"Yeah. Did you hear they've spotted sharks in Sydney Harbor, so the water's gotten cleaner." The steering guy said.
"That's good." said the guy behind us.
Sharks? Good? Sharks? Sharrrrks? So much for the swimming idea. Geeze. There would be sharks.
At this point, the Caller went row by row to make sure everyone was using proper paddling technique. I was in gym class all over again.
No Jan, like this. No Jan, like this. No Jan, like this. Jan, watch the guy in front of you.
Yes, I have no muscle memory and just because I did something 601 times, does not mean that I did it the right way. Besides, I could decide to not paddle at all. I could strike. I could organize a boatwide sitdown strike (heck, we were sitting already). We'll make Caller Girl and Steering Guy do all the work. Who's with me?
We started paddling again. I noticed a guy paddling his open top kayak not far away. I wondered if I could switch places with him. I felt tense, and the kayak looked mellow. I'd be mellow in the kayak. I'm in Australia! I want to be mellow, damn it!
Then I realized something about myself. I am an individualist----not in the twisted, wants-to-rule-the-world, I'm-the-only-one-right way. No. I like to be I. I'm not good giving myself over to the collective whole where I have no input towards an outcome. Sure, I was making sure that my little part of the boat moved quickly, but it wasn't enough. I can not just sit down and do something because everyone around is doing it too. I'm not a cog in a wheel----or a paddle on the dragon boat. I need to work collaboratively where I have input in the outcome. Yeah, good answer, Jen.
While I was having my Ayn Rand epiphanies, the dragon boat pulled up to the dock. As I waited to get off the boat (first on, last off), the guy behind me asked where I was from. I told him New York.
"Oh that's great. There are boat clubs in New York." He said.
"Oh. That's nice." I said.
He sure loved dragon boating. More power to him. He's doing exactly what he wants to do. I like meeting people like that.
As I stepped up onto land, I looked at Charlotte and nodded no-fucking-way-never-again. It was a once in a lifetime kind of thing.
Also, Charlotte wants me to mention that it took me ages to eat breakfast afterwards because I was so riled.
But wait, there's more.
In September, Arson destroyed all of the team's equipment and boats. This was a shock. Fortunately, they have replaced many of their boats and continue to train and compete. You can read the latest news about them here.
Charlotte is still involved with dragon boating. However, she recently pulled her neck wrong and is on painkillers.
While in Sydney, I also did the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb which I highly recommend to anyone who visits Sydney. However, I got vertigo. Again, once in a lifetime kind of thing.