Paddlers not rowers: Fiona competes and cheers at the RCC Dragonboat Festival

Photo credit: Jessica @ flickr

Fiona Tapp is a British Elementary School Teacher, who has called Ottawa home for the past 5 years. As a native Londoner, she tries to explore and enjoy Ottawa as a tourist, and so far is pretty impressed with this “tiny but brilliant” city!

Warming up at the RCC Dragonboat Festival

I have been involved in dragonboating for the past four years; I originally joined a city crew after perusing Ottawa’s recreation guide, looking for a new sport to keep me entertained and as a way to meet new friends. I had just moved here from the U.K. and was feeling the “new city blues” quite strongly. I was in danger of becoming a Facebook creeper, jealously following my old mates’ exploits back in Blighty and feeling left out.  So I signed up for my first season of Dragonboat. However, I soon realized it’s a little difficult to make friends when you are all sitting in a boat looking at just the back in front of you; so the following year I brought along an established friend and together, we became more sociable and actually, God forbid, spoke to the other paddlers!

I quickly learned the cardinal rules of Dragonboat: we are “paddlers” not “rowers”; keep in stroke; never stop paddling unless asked to (even if your arm feels like it might drop off); and take everything in stride — steersperson or coaches falling into the water, near-boat collisions and paddling in torrential rainstorms are all part of the fun!

I have competed at the famous Ottawa Dragonboat Festival three times (one year I was sick with the flu) and have experienced the highs, winning a medal, and the lows, not having enough paddlers to compete. I have also had the chance to compete at the Carleton Place Festival, which is much smaller but has a lovely atmosphere and a nice course to race on.

I didn’t think I was a particularly competitive person until I started paddling, but when you are in the last stretch of a race — every muscle in your body is crying out for you to stop and the coach yells “Give it everything you’ve got!!”, pulling ahead of the other boat in a gruelling, grunting fashion — is about as good as it gets.

The Rideau Canoe Club at Mooney's Bay

Last weekend my team competed in the Fourth Annual Rideau Canoe Club’s Dragonboat Festival. This was a first for me even though the RCC, at Mooney’s Bay, is where we practice twice a week throughout the summer. Perhaps because the RCC already feels like home, we especially enjoyed this race day. We were guaranteed four races: two of 250 M and two of 500 M. Despite a heavy wind and rain storm, we completed all four. Participants usually bring tents and potluck contributions to share with their team, which lends a festive feel to the event; however the very well appointed clubhouse offered a variety of food for those wishing to pay a small fee and most importantly, washrooms!

The party atmosphere was completed with the great selection of music played throughout the event, my teammates of the same age especially appreciated the late 90s tracks and danced joyously between races!

Everyone cheered enthusiastically for all participants, however, special kudos was giving to “Dragons for All” and “Team Tamir” who competed in the “Paddle For All” heats, designed to introduce paddlers with disabilities to the sport. The strength, determination and team spirit these tenacious paddlers demonstrated was an example to us all. One shining moment was when my team came third out of three teams in one heat — i.e we lost — however a Dragons For All athlete informed us that “Third means bronze; Good for you!”

The RCC is frequented by a friendly bunch who love paddling in all forms and enjoy sharing this passion with newcomers. The clubhouse has recently been refurbished and is looking better than ever. I strongly recommend anyone with a penchant for something challenging, new and different to sign up for the variety of programs offered at the RCC. And for those looking to be a spectator at a competitive, exciting, yet small and friendly event, check out the RCC Dragonboat Festival next year.

Fiona is quickly becoming our local adventurer! Best of luck next year!