Man, what an incredible and emotional weekend at the Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival two weeks ago. It was a culmination of what the team has trained for all season, all the sacrifices every paddler has made, and the selflessness and trust we have in each. This was the final race of the season for me and it makes me so happy and proud to be paddling alongside people who are so passionate and committed to the sport.
When I first joined the team in April, I heard all about the hype around the NorCal race that’s supposedly super competitive with teams from Canada and Hong Kong. This was exciting to me because we get to compete with international teams at such a high caliber, but it also meant we need to train hard if we want to even be in the competition. So all season, the team has worked so hard to improve individually as a paddler and also together as a boat. It was not always easy and there were probably more races where came off thinking, ‘We did not race our race. It could’ve been better,’ than thinking, ‘That race was as perfect as it could get.’ So it was tough. We were harsh on ourselves, but it just meant we care that much more. At a team level, we say we’re great and we’ve worked so hard to come this far, but individually we sometimes feel a sense of doubt. Are we really on par with other teams in the Bay Area? Teams from Canada? Teams from Hong Kong? This weekend I truly believe we proved ourselves as one of the premier teams that’s capable of putting forward multiple boats to compete at the international stage.
Saturday was the seeding rounds for both Mixed and Gender crews and I had the privilege to paddle on DW Black and DW Open. We won first place in all three seeding rounds, which was a great morale booster, but it’s still just the seeding rounds and competition will only get harder. Even winning first we didn’t paddle our best race and there were clear areas to improve on. The doubts were still there. For me, I think it’s important to celebrate what we did well, which we did, but more importantly understand what can be improved and focus on that. I don’t believe any one paddler, team, or boat is perfect so there is always something to improve on.
It was also eye opening to see so many DW team members help organize and run the festival as well as coach novice teams. There were so many DW jerseys everywhere because people were just doing so many things. I volunteered to coach a team with zero experience and it was very challenging, but at the same time very rewarding. I remember one paddler came up to me at the end of a practice and said it was very encouraging to see me, someone with 7 years of experience, to still have so much patience with a crew of novices. I never thought of it like that and that single comment made coaching worth it and it made me happy to have introduced the sport to twenty-six new paddlers and made it fun for them. Saturday was hectic with so many things going on, but it was very fulfilling and gratifying knowing that it’s not just me doing this, but a ton of other teammates are also spreading the passion.
Sunday was the finals. DW Open had one hell of a race with sooo much power every single stroke. I can’t remember the last time I felt a boat with so much power and it was such an amazing feeling. We had a lot to work on from the seeding round, but we smoothed out all the edges and brought our A game in the final. All six teams finished within a second or two and we placed 2nd overall.
DW Mixed raced in the afternoon and this was the most important race of the entire festival. In the semi-finals, both DW Black and DW Red made it to Competitive A Final – that’s freakin’ crazy! Two premier crews in the top 6 boats of the entire festival, it’s still so hard to believe. While marshalling for the final heat, DW members dominated the staging area because we had such a large presence. There were a lot of distractions, but I was focused on DW Black and my responsibility in seat two. I believe every paddler is in their seat for a reason and on race day it’s up to us to deliver.
The final 500m race was all a blur to be honest. All twenty of us paddled as one boat, every single stroke was with intention, and our heads were in the boat the entire two minutes. I’m so grateful for the people in the timing box for making the race so fun and rewarding and for making communication so easy. Without a doubt, we had each other’s backs every stroke and gave it everything we got plus a little more. It was a near-perfect race. The feeling of crossing that finish line reminded me why we all worked so hard to get where we are and why we were all on DW Black. We edged out all but one other Bay Area team and all the international teams, coming in 2nd place in the whole festival. At that moment, we proved that as a team we are sooo strong, and that as long as we trust the game plan and each other we can achieve more than what we can even imagine.
Once we docked was when the emotions started coming out. During the debrief everyone had teary eyes, had tears stream down their faces, or choked up to even say anything. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before in dragon boat but it was the best thing I’ve experienced. I feel so lucky to be able to paddle on such an amazing team with incredible team members on my first season in SF. It’s such a core part of my life and the team has made the transition to the west coast extremely easy and I’m so grateful for the friendships I’ve made. Thank you, SF Dragon Warriors for welcoming me as an outsider and allowing me to paddle with the top crew. It’s been a tremendous honor and privilege to paddle alongside such driven individuals on the team and I will always cherish this.
To top off the entire festival, Tek surprised the whole team by proposing to Eri during the appreciations. It was so beautiful and I am so, so, so happy for you guys! Congratulations to both of you from being roommates to becoming a family. <3