The following submission was made as an entry to win a OC1 from an amazingly generous donor, who wanted to see the canoe truly enjoyed, rather than turn a profit. Entrants were asked to submit an essay answering the following:
- Part 1: “Describe how paddling has changed your life.”
- Part 2: “How do you plan to use this canoe, and perhaps someday pass it along?”
Hi, I’m a second-year paddler on my college’s Dragon Boat team and this is my submission for the Cali Paddler essay contest. In this essay, I hope to explain how paddling, specifically with my Dragon Boat team, changed my life and was an unexpected solution to reshaping my worldview, and how I plan to use this canoe if given the honor and someday pass it along. I hope this essay will inspire others to pick up paddling or dragon boating by demonstrating how it taught me valuable life lessons about trust, working together, overcoming adversity, and focusing on the small things in life
The most memorable moment of my first season paddling wasn’t any of the most fun or exciting experiences I had with the team, from the stoked yet cold-blooded adrenaline of my first race, to the smiley satisfaction of gliding in the water after a first OC stroke, to the welcome retreat party after making the team. It was around midnight on the way driving back from my first race from Long Beach to the Bay Area. It was dark and almost silent, with the only lights outside being the stars and the reflection of red from the sedan ahead us. The desert landscape on The Grapevine was serene and flat. Two of my teammates were napping in the back after an exhausting but fun race day. Another teammate was in the passenger seat talking with me to keep me awake. We would probably get back around 4 am. And as we were talking about life and our experiences, I had this visceral and very raw moment of clarity. Joining dragon b oat was the best decision of my college career.
I was orphaned at fifteen and raised by my uncle and aunt. Growing up in a family that pushed me towards academics as a child, I dealt with my grief mostly on my own by throwing myself into work. I studied hard during my free time, got grades I was proud of and was eventually accepted into a college I’m very grateful to be at. I poured my time into running, trained twelve months a year for four years, and ended up running almost five thousand miles throughout high school and qualifying to race in some incredible meets. I spent all four summers in high school working and secured a summer internship in my junior year. I even threw myself into several side projects from books to businesses. Unfortunately, it was work done with exhaustion, for distraction, and perhaps by a child who was thrown into growing up too quickly. I convinced myself that in order to succeed, I had to do it totally on my own. I justified the time I was taking from myself by measuring my value by the length of my resume when I should have based it on how happy I was. I now realize that’s more important. Work was an excuse to not confront my thoughts or rely on others. And so I was suspended in this odd mental rut between spiraling down, and healing so I could grow as a person.
Enter dragon boat. Dragon boat is a very unique sport with an equally unique community. We race in standard boats of 22 people, powered by 10 rows of paddlers. Although most people, including anyone I knew and grew up with, don’t know the sport exists, the dragon boat community is incredibly passionate and dedicated. I never heard of dragon boat before trying out, and joined because a friend suggested I try out with her when she saw the team’s table on main campus. I tried my best at tryouts and ended up making the team. Now you may be wondering how paddling or dragon boat has anything to do with loss, trust, values, or life lessons.
Dragon boat gave me perspective on what teamwork should look like and what it can do for people. To move the boat forward, everyone needs to be an actively firing piston in the hull’s interdependent engine. Every paddler is equal on the water and feels like they truly matter and make an impact. Because of that, each member wants to do their best to give to the team, and the team wants to do its best to give back to its members. For me personally, joining my college’s dragon boat team forced me to internalize this team mentality. Dragon boat’s environment, where cohesiveness and reliance on teamwork are the only way to physically move forward, taught me the key to moving forward was letting myself rely on others instead of trying to strong-arm my way through a self-created career track.
In this way, paddling with dragon boat also taught me lessons about overcoming adversity in life. On the water, everyone in the boat faces adversity -- through rain, wind, waves, fierce competition, and the challenge of pushing yourself physically and mentally. Paddling is a full body workout that pushes your physical strength and cardio system. It’s also a complex and initially very unnatural movement that requires mental focus to maintain form for, especially in-time with the boat.
Paddling reinforced that overcoming adversity means facing it head on, whether it be by paddling straight through the waves, pushing through non-ideal weather conditions. It also taught me that it means focusing on yourself to maintain form and trusting you’ll do so in races, and focusing on the full boat and trusting everyone else will help you glide forward. Paddling with a finely-tuned team where cohesiveness is the difference between gliding and capsizing taught me that overcoming adversity means facing it head on and embracing the team mentality to surpass challenges that couldn’t be done nearly as well independently.
Lastly, paddling with dragon boat helped me realize the small things in life are often the most important. I spent much of high school chasing achievements that are mostly irrelevant now that I’m in college. In contrast, I’ll never regret the memories I had and know that they’ll never become irrelevant because of that. To be a member of the dragon boat community means to be part of the friendliest and most giving group of people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. I could tell in the first week of paddling these people lived their lives with thought and heart, and were happier for it too. The little things dragon boat gave me -- spontaneous cookies, the freedom of gliding on glassy water, stupid poop jokes, loud chants before a last race -- taught me how important and liberating living in the moment is and how much less meaningful living without these little things can be. Paddling with dragon boat taught me valuable life lessons that helped me heal from my most difficult challenges and experiences and helped me move on from a mental rut I had been stuck in for years. I hope to continue paddling for some time, and that others find something similarly meaningful in their own lives.
If given the honor of receiving this canoe, I plan on taking it out to glide as much as I can this summer, and then bringing it to college in August so my team can enjoy it too. After I graduate, I plan on donating the canoe to the team so future generations of dragon boaters and paddlers can enjoy it. Giving the canoe to the team would also give future paddlers a chance to experience other forms of paddling and give them a more full and diverse range of experiences.