After about two months of practice, VCKC Loco Motion made its debut in the Vancouver Island Island Championships, at the Gorge Rowing and Paddling Center. In the first heat, we were put in against Blu by U, a competitive team that finished 8th overall on the day, came in at 2:14. We were second at 2:33. This got us into the Green event. Our performances improved through the next two races partly through the influence of wind and tide, to 2:17, but the competitive teams ran between 2:01 and 2:05 in their finals. The difference between a serious competitive mixed team and a novice team seems to be about 15 seconds.
I can see what this sport is about now. A novice team can’t seriously challenge a top team, but the race sorts itself into events that are challenging, competitive and rewarding. It rewards teamwork over individual effort. The boats weigh half a ton empty, and it takes 20 paddlers, working together, in time, with intensity, to move them.
It isn’t hard to find an opportunity to paddle, at least in Vancouver or on Vancouver Island. Several voluntary clubs like VCKC have practice boats and paddling programs, and there are a number of faciliities like the Gorge Center that provide a season of coached practices, and entry into races in a “stew” team” for a couple of hundred. Watching the team build itself out of people with different temperaments, different reasons for paddling, different experiences in paddling dragon boats or other boats was a story in itself.
This sport has a strong social side – practicing with the same crew and racing against the same people at the same events tends to do that. This festival didn’t seem to have a lot of spectators – there may be an audience at Inner Harbour for the Victoria Festival next weekend. A race between good teams is interesting, but it’s like watching other amateur sport – someone who hasn’t tried it doesn’t know what’s involved in maintaining timed (synchonized) driving strokes from a standing start, through nearly 500 meters, and an accelerating drive to the finish.
The festivals have a pretty strong focus on makings sure the paddlers have a beer garden, some music and some room to dance after they have run their final races, and the teams seem to socialize and party, especially if they are guests or tourists.