If you were around this time last year, you may recall that I was on a dragon boat team. Also that the Naha dragon boat festival was, for the first time in 38 years, canceled due to weather and sea conditions. So, after three months of training, I spent the day drinking at Chili's with my team instead of competing.
You guys, I'm so glad it got canceled last year.
I'm pretty sure that if we'd been able to compete last year, I would have checked Dragon Boat Race off the old life list and moved on. But since we didn't get to race, I still felt like I couldn't really tick that box. I debated rejoining the Army team this year, but then decided to go to Texas in February to visit my family, meaning I'd miss the first three weeks of practice. So I figured I was out for this year.
Once I got back, my neighbor told me she'd just gone to the first practice for another team, Ryukyu* Crazy Girls, who just started practice in March. So I went along to the second practice, just in time to get a spot before the team was full up. This turned out to be an excellent decision.
*The islands that are now the prefecture of Okinawa, prior to being taken over by Japan, were an independent nation called the Ryukyu Kingdom
Ryukyu Crazy Girls is a team founded five years ago by two women, one Japanese and one American, to compete in summer boat races. During the summer, there are several festivals around Okinawa and on the smaller neighboring islands that include races of the smaller dragon boats, which seat ten rowers.
Like other Japanese teams, the Crazy Girls have a sensei who acts as coach and steers the boat during competition. Ours is Aka-san. He also competes with a local men's team. (Did calling him "sensei" make you think of Mr. Miyagi? If so, I should clarify that Aka-san is around 40 and could bench press all of us.)
The Naha dragon boat festival kicks off the season with races in much larger boats that seat 32 rowers.
The Crazy Girls just started entering the race in Naha a couple of years ago. While of course they want to do well in every race, they're really focused on the summer. So for Naha, they take anyone, regardless of ability, to allow everyone who wants the experience to have it. But they also watch the team closely and pick who they want, based on both ability and team-oriented no drama attitude, for the summer team.
Internet, I made the team. And not just because no drama is kind of my thing. They think I'm good.
This comes as a real surprise after not only a lifetime of absolutely sucking at every athletic endeavor, but also last season being required to go to an extra practice for those of us not up to scratch. Though at that practice, I was given no feedback and when I asked why I was there, was told that I'd been doing a funny thing at a different practice but wasn't doing it anymore. The coaching style was to shout at everyone as a group, threaten extra practices or not rowing on race day, but not offer actual teaching or individual help. I did not find this ideal.
Earlier this season, one of our captains told me that "So good" is Aka-san's highest praise, at least in English. We had our first summer team practice on Friday night and had to row two at a time for Aka-san so he could give us feedback. All of us new girls were pretty nervous about it. He did have lots of feedback. Lean forward further, don't lean back so far, look up, use your legs, bend your top arm, don't bend your bottom arm and mostly...lelax. The girls explained (through one of the Japanese girls who translates) that it's hard to relax with Aka-san watching.
My feedback? "So good. Technique so good." That was it.
Some of it has to do with the different technique this team uses that seems to work much better for me. Maybe it's partly because I'm already pretty lelaxed. Maybe going on autopilot when I get distracted works for this somehow.
Or possibly I am an athletic idiot savant.
It does kind of feel like I found my thing and it's just really nice to be succeeding at something. And to be a valued part of a team. We're practicing in a boat now on a river instead of standing in the ocean. It was so beautiful and tranquil while we were rowing Friday night, the only sound our paddles swishing through the water. An ass-kicking workout with a gorgeous view. I loved it and I can't wait to go back.
This time, I'm going to try to not smash my thumb against the side of the boat. So good or not, I'm still me. Just me in a hot pink Crazy Girls tank top with more defined shoulder muscles and someplace to be every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night.