The paddlers begin settling into their boats, amidst a crowd of encouragement and anxiety. Most are hungry for their first victory; some are in it for another gold medal. They bury their paddles into the water, and wait for the call of the horn.
Such was the scene on Saturday, May 5, as four of Lowell’s Dragon Boat crews, the female gender crew Lowellitas, male gender crew Riders and mixed gender boats Cardinal Crewzers and Red Tide raced in the California Dragon Boat Association Regional Regatta at Lake Merced.
After the team won the Youth Race on April 21, members had the option of tackling the adults of the mixed division at the Regional Regatta race.
The Crewzers won the mixed division title — the first time ever for a high school team. Red Tide raced in Division D and finished in fourth place,;the Lowellitas won the women’s division for the second year in a row and Riders finished third in the men’s division. Not all of the crews were in full strength, as some paddlers couldn’t make it, leaving people from other crews to fill in.
According to coach Brian Danforth, in the previous two years of the adult race, Crewzers finished third overall, and last year Red Tide placed third in Division B. “They held their own against the adults, and the Lowellitas last year were the top women’s crew at both the Youth Race and the Regatta, making them the best in Northern California,” he said.
On Saturday, April 21, the team competed in the CDBA Youth Race, also at Lake Merced. This semester, the team entered four mixed gender boats in the race ‒ the Cardinal Crewzers, Red Tide, Big Red C and Fai D. All four co-ed boats were fast enough to be bumped up one division, meaning the Red Tide competed in the A, not B division. The Cardinal Crewzers took their fifth consecutive championship in the Division A for mixed, the crews Red Tide took fifth in that same division, and the Big Red C and Fai D each took sixth place in thre B and C Divisions, respectively.
“It was one of our most competitive races. The special thing about this season was our fifth championship gold, which no team had done before,” junior group leader Elizabeth Kim said.
According to Danforth, when a crew wins the Youth Race (which preceeds the Regatta), they receive a free ticket to the adult regatta in May. “The Crewzers have qualified for that for the third consecutive year, and we’re also entering our second crew, the Red Tide, on a paid basis. By entering two crews, that allows us to participate in the women’s and men’s competitions,” he said.
In addition, the teams’ separate boys’ and girls’ crews, the female Lowellitas and Cardinelles, and male Riders and Red Menace, also competed at the race. The Lowellitas took their fourth consecutive girls’ title, the Cardinelles won sixth place and the Riders ended their winning streak against Lincoln with second place. The Red Menace did not make it to the final.
Coach Brian Danforth said that there were a few key paddlers this semester. Of the veteran male members on the team, Danforth mentioned seniors leader Jimmy Yang and Gordon Deng as leaders. “Jimmy Yang is a real inspiration,” Danforth said. “He made super good paddlers and is a really nice guy for me as a coach; it’s just an ongoing great job from him.” Deng, the lead stroker, although very competitive, has a real calm about himself when he talks to the crew, according to Danforth.
Danforth also commended a first-year paddler. “I’ll take my hat off to a young man named Jack Fang, who was on the fourth crew (which consisted mostly of first-time racers) that was very disappointed with their first race, and he kept the crew really positive,” he said.
Danforth also pointed out two extraordinary females, senior paddler Helen Wei and junior group leader Elizabeth Kim. “Helen has a lead-by-example personality, and I’m always really impressed with Elizabeth − she’s a junior, but she’s somebody I think a lot of girls look up to for inspiration. She can really fire up the boat,” he said.
In terms of how the crews did, Danforth says that they all exceeded his expectations, except for the Crewzers and Lowellitas, who of course met the expectation of winning the championships, again. “It was a really great day because the longer the winning streak goes, the harder it is for a team to maintain the internal motivation. Other teams go out there hungry for victory, but we had to avoid being complacent. No one is going to just let us keep what we have,” he said.
Danforth attributed part of the Crewzers’ success to the competitive atmosphere of practices. “When you have a crew that does what our Cardinal Crewzers do, it’s not just the 20 people on that boat,” he said. “I don’t think they could’ve achieved what they achieved without the very significant increase in quality of the second crew, the Red Tide. During the practice season, Red Tide in various heats was regularly beating the Crewzers, and our first crew was scratching their heads all along saying ‘My gosh, how come we can’t beat these guys?’ When you have that type of an atmosphere, it really makes you a stronger racer.”
The team faced three major obstacles this season. According to Danforth, one was continuing to find motivation for crews already at the top with a streak going on.
Secondly, the team of four mixed crews began the 2012 season with only two steerers. However, by the time of the race, the team had certified 17 steerers through the California Dragon Boat Association. The team also had four or five new people get their first race experience as steerers.
Third, two paddlers from the team’s top crew, the Crewzers, missed at least two weeks of practice because they were not feeling well.
According to senior paddler Gordon Liang, the Crewzers were able to overcome physical pains and win the race. “Our camaraderie and hard work allowed everyone to ignore the physical hardships, go through the finish line together as a synchronized team, and come out as the champions,” he said.
As usual, Lowell’s main opponent at the race was Lincoln. “I was incredibly anxious all day since Lincoln was getting faster times than us in their heats. Finals were ridiculously close because we caught Lincoln in the last five meters,” junior paddler Erin Wong said.
The team is also planning on competing in some races this summer. Having competed at Macau and Vancouver last year, they plan on competing at a local sprint race in Fremont in July, and another race in Long Beach a couple weeks later.