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Dragon Boat: More than a club

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Dragon Boat: More than a club

The Lowell Red Tide making their way towards the finish line at the 2018 Youth Race on April 22 at Lake Merced.

The Lowell Red Tide making their way towards the finish line at the 2018 Youth Race on April 22 at Lake Merced.

Tobi Kawanami

The Lowell Red Tide making their way towards the finish line at the 2018 Youth Race on April 22 at Lake Merced.

Tobi Kawanami

Tobi Kawanami

The Lowell Red Tide making their way towards the finish line at the 2018 Youth Race on April 22 at Lake Merced.

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If outsiders didn’t know that the 2018 California Dragon Boat Association (CDBA) Youth Race was happening on April 22 at Lake Merced, they probably would’ve believed there was a large picnic from the laughter, tents and smell of barbecue smoke. They wouldn’t think that behind this lively atmosphere was an intense and competitive race. Once the high school paddlers get to the start line, hear the calls of “Paddlers, are you ready? Attention” and hear the bang of the gun, they’re focused on only one thing: winning the race.

Going into finals, paddlers are often more nervous than during the seedings. Many times, that is when the “hunger,” or how badly someone wants to win, comes out. “A lot of people are hungry and it hypes me up, but it also makes me so nervous,” senior leader Kristin Jai said. “It makes me more nervous than Arena when I have a bad pick.”

“[Finals] makes me more nervous than Arena when I have a bad pick.”

When paddlers are competing, their minds are also racing. Some paddlers focus on whomever is in front of them, their stroke rate and maintaining the team’s sync. However, others can’t help but feel the rush of the race. “People tell me to not look at the other boats, and I’m like, ‘But they’re right there!’” junior leader Audrey Yu said. “It’s hard not to look and think that you have to go faster, but then you also have to maintain control and you’re just hauling ass basically. It’s exhilarating in a sense. It’s crazy.”

The team shows support for their teammates as they high five them after the race. Photo by Tobi Kawanami

For many of the team members, it is their first time participating in a sport. Dragon Boat is all about the team as a whole, which is a pulling factor for new athletes. In Dragon Boat, it is not the individual that makes up a team. Everyone has to be in sync and put in 100 percent of their effort. “The inherent nature of Dragon Boat is that it’s a team sport,” head coach Brian Danforth said. “There’s lots of team sports out there where you have to work together, but Dragon Boat doesn’t have a Stephen Curry or a Kevin Durant.”

“There’s lots of team sports out there where you have to work together, but Dragon Boat doesn’t have a Stephen Curry or a Kevin Durant.”

One challenge the Lowell team has faced is the limited amount of time the team can practice. Right now, the team practices for three days each weekday and they even meet up at 7 a.m. during the weekend to practice even more. During practices, they get the boats CDBA provides for only an hour and a half each time, which they feel is not enough sometimes. However, the team has recently become the first youth club to buy their own boats, or more specifically, two boats. With the addition of these boats, the team doesn’t have to rely on CDBA and is hoping that they can have more practices at flexible times. “I’m really looking forward to be able to say ‘Let’s meet on Friday this afternoon,’ or ‘Let’s extend Saturday practices so we can get some more time for the race,’” Danforth said. Besides more practices, this will also allow for more frequent gender-split practices besides the usual 1–2 per season. The team is still figuring out how to best use their new boats to further improve.

With all the hard work that they put in, some paddlers feel that Dragon Boat should be acknowledged more, and maybe even become an Olympic sport. For seniors, they had to put Dragon Boat as a club or hobby in their college applications, but they believe it is beyond that. “[Dragon boat] becomes part of your lifestyle,” Zhang said. “I wish that Dragon Boat can get more recognition from both the school and sports.”

“I was able to gradually improve my mental health, and my journey to self-love and self-acceptance due to Dragon Boat.”

For many paddlers, Dragon Boat is not just a sports club but also family. They have fought through “hell” together, practicing in literal storms, hail and rain, according to senior leader Ryan Lee. Through Dragon Boat, paddlers are able to build leadership skills, as well as build relationships that continue beyond the club. Many feel that the club made them more confident and accepted. “I can definitely see, from a rough patch in freshman year, I was able to gradually improve my mental health, and my journey to self-love and self-acceptance due to Dragon Boat,” Lee said. “There’s so many people accepting you and I just love it.” Lee mentioned his possible plans of coaching the Lowell team in the future. A few additional seniors’ deep love for Dragon Boat and the team, inspired their plans for continuing to paddle in college.

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Youth Race 2018

Coming into the Youth Race, the Lowell Dragon Boat team had their minds set on gold. Despite their efforts, they ultimately fell short to the Lincoln Mustangs, their closest rival for the past 16 years, for the title of champions of San Francisco. However, they still got silver and in most divisions, trailing behind Lincoln by mere seconds. Head coach Brian Danforth put a positive spin on the loss, pointing out the fact that Lowell teams were faster than last year. “We’re still improving, but [Lincoln is] improving, too,” he said. “This is what makes the rivalry really amazing.”

Going onto the water during the girls race, the Lowelitas, one of Lowell’s crews, lacked confidence, according to senior leader Kristin Jai. The team had lost 20 girls, a whole boat, due to the previous seniors graduating last year. With a quarter of the team gone, Jai and senior leader Rosa Zhang had the responsibility to pick 20 new freshmen and teach them everything from scratch. Throughout the season, the girls had trouble syncing up with each other. “We didn’t really get [our glide] until today. That was the first time that I felt, ‘Wow, I can actually feel us moving,’” Zhang said. “All the other times, [the boat] felt super heavy and I was really frustrated to paddle because it just felt like there was nothing there. I just felt like I was pulling bricks behind me.” The Lowelitas came in second with a time of 2:28.

“Every year, the girls just wanna bring back the golden age back when the girls always got gold.”

Next season the girls crew is looking forward to bring back the gold. “Every incoming season is going to change, but our goals stay the same,” Yu said. “Every year, the girls just wanna bring back the golden age back when the girls always got gold.”

Senior leader Wilson Chen had confidence in the boys crew throughout the whole race piece. “It was only at the end that I noticed [Lincoln] was ahead of us,” Chen said. “That’s when I realized that we weren’t first. I think the guys definitely progressed with everything. No regrets.” The boys crew, the Lowell Riders, came in second with a time of 2:07.

The Lowell Crewzers plowing through the waters during a heat. Photo by Tobi Kawanami

After the gender-split races, it was time for the mixed events. The Lowell Crewzers placed second in the A-Division race with a time of 2:14. Danforth was especially proud of how the Lowell Crewzers had improved throughout the day. “Our first heat was 2 minutes and 19 seconds, our last heat was 2 minutes and 14 seconds,” he said. “To really improve by 5 seconds over the day — usually the times go down and in this case, they went up.”

The Lowell Red Tide finished in sixth place in the same division, with a time of 2:18. Competing in the B Division were the Lowell Big Red C who came in fifth place with a time of 2:25. For C Division, the Lowell Fai-D finished first with a time of 2:24.

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Dragon Boat: More than a club