OC1 Essay Contest Entry - Patrick Tsai

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?”

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Patrick Tsai, California

I’m Patrick Tsai, and I live in San Francisco, CA. I was born in New York City and
lived there until I went to the University of Michigan to study electrical engineering. I just graduated and moved to San Francisco in August 2018 for a job. Rowing was a big sport at my university but I didn’t try it out due to heavy course loads. After I moved to San Francisco, I had some time to spend on new activities and knew no one, so I decided to try dragon boating since it was a team sport and up to that point in my life, I had done mostly solo sports like tennis, swimming, and cycling.

My first taste of dragon boating was a novice event in September 2018, at the Northern California International Dragon Boat Festival. I had joined a group called TAP (Taiwanese American Professionals) to try to get to know at least a few people in the San Francisco area, and when I heard they were going to enter the competition as a team, I searched up on YouTube what dragon boating was about. From the videos I saw, I thought it was absolutely insane how every paddler on the boats were in sync. It looked easy on my computer monitor, but little did I know how tiring it could be when practiced with TAP, and that technique was key to going fast. When competition time came, I found dragon boating to be exhilarating. The calm before the storm when the boats are lining up to begin the race, the call out shouts when the horn sounds, the visual communication with teammates to make sure the stroking is in sync, the eyeing of other boats to see if we were falling behind or catching up were all things I can still picture in my mind. For some reason, my mind tends to remember in great visual detail moments that really moved me or had an impact on me, and the first competition race is one of those moments aside from memories of a car crash, going skydiving, and hitting my head on a door frame while running when I was a kid (an injury that I needed stitches for). There were some members from the Ripple Effect dragon boat team also competing on the novice team, and after the competition, they reached out to the rest of the novice team asking if anyone was interested in joining the team, so I went to one of their practices and I’ve been there since then. I’ve been on the team for about nine months now, practicing on the weekends, doing community service with team members, and feeling the same rush I felt during the novice event during race weekends with the team.

I can say for sure that dragon boating has shown me what grit is, and what encouragement can do for physical endurance. When I swam or cycled, fighting through the burn of muscle fatigue was something I thought I was mentally prepared for, but the burn from dragon boating was like no other. I was giving it my all, arms aching from paddling, and yet there were still a hundred or two hundred meters to go and the boat in the next lane was sailing past us. But the shouts of encouragement from teammates to make it to the end, the calls from the steersperson that they “need more now,” and the sight of the entire boat still keeping in sync and paddling fast keep my body paddling past what I thought was possible. I can also say that I have never been in a group as diverse as the one in Ripple Effect. In school, everyone is around the same age. In TAP, everyone is Taiwanese. But in Ripple Effect, there are high-schoolers, new graduates like me, retirees, nurses, software engineers, math teachers, parents, people about to buy their first house, people renting for the first time, the list could go on. There are people from all walks of life in Ripple Effect.

Ripple Effect has also given me a sense of community in the San Francisco Bay Area. My teammates are also my close friends, and I know many people on a deeper level than I ever have in a group setting. We spend time with each other on the water paddling, as well as off the water going to events around San Francisco, volunteering with various organizations such as the Food Bank and Salvation Army to assist low-income and homeless people and to try to do good in San Francisco, and watching Game of Thrones. It takes time and repeated interactions to make close friends, and Ripple Effect has created the time to create those bonds. If someone was to ask me what the best parts of living in San Francisco were, I would definitely point to Ripple Effect as one of them.

The self-proclaimed mission of Ripple Effect is “ohana,” a term from Hawaiian culture that means family and emphasizes respect and cooperation between members, and that nobody is left behind. People who join quickly make friends within the team, as I did, and during practices are given advice by the coaching staff who tirelessly volunteer their time. An term often thrown around in Silicon Valley is diversity, and plenty of news articles pop up saying that more diverse teams perform better. I didn’t understand this concept until I joined Ripple Effect and I met people very different from me in upbringing, occupation, interests, and thought process. Coming up with different ways of explaining paddling technique, choosing public events to go to and enjoy as a team, and planning barbeques is easier when people have differing skill sets and viewpoints. Recently we wanted to host a surprise prom for a team member who is a senior in high school and missed her senior prom to go to our yearly team retreat because she thought the retreat would be more fun. One person made a corsage to go on her arm after another person asked if she’d let Ripple Effect be her date for the night, someone else handmade prom signage, another person brought their disco ball, yet another smoked the dancefloor. I’m not sure another team could pull this off.

Besides our team outings, Ripple Effect trains hard and tries to provide equipment so members can paddle their heart out. We have an ergometer that provides good training and warm up and a solid coaching staff for both on-water and off-water activities. What I believe we are missing is an OC. Every two months or so, the coaching staff holds something called the Ripple Effect Fitness Challenge, or REFC, that tries to measure a paddler’s fitness across several dimensions. The REFC includes push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, an 800m run, a 500m erg time trial, and when we have access to an OC-2 generously provided a high school team coached by a longtime member Henry, a 300m OC-2 time trial on the water. I love doing the OC-2 time trial since I believe it is the closest I can get to measuring my performance on the water without rowing an entire dragon boat solo. Recently, the high school team that owns the OC-2, Galileo, has been ramping up their practices and usage of the OC-2, so despite our close connections with them we haven’t been able to get access to it. For the June REFC, we don’t have the OC-2 time trial for that reason.

I’ve spoken to other people on the team about getting an OC, and all of them including coaching staff agree that it would be really great to have one. And so I am entering this contest not to win the OC-1 for myself, but to give it to Ripple Effect. The OC would allow team members to train on equipment that more closely resembles the dragon boat environment. A number of Ripple Effect members also coach high school dragon boat teams in the San Francisco area, like Henry, so it also gives paddlers on those teams access to the OC. We often see Galileo’s OC-2 on the water being paddled. It would be great to have another OC so paddlers on our team and other paddlers coached by our members have access to another form of paddling.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my nine months on my dragon boating team and plan to stay for the long run. Obtaining an OC would let us appreciate paddling and the sport of dragon boating more, and would open up more opportunities to paddle to those on our team and the younger paddlers being coached by Ripple Effect’s members. I think this would be a great addition to the community service that Ripple Effect already does, and I hope this will give more paddlers we impact a stronger sense of community and greater self-development like the one I felt after I joined Ripple Effect.

If one day Ripple Effect ceases to function as a team, I’m sure the people on the team, myself included, will make sure that our resources are distributed back to the dragon boat community, including the OC if we win it.


I was born and raised in New York City. I liked playing sports, especially ball sports like tennis and kickball, and also swam. I didn’t try rowing or paddling until after I moved to San Francisco for a job after graduating from college. I joined a dragon boating team called Ripple Effect shortly after I moved here, and now I paddle on the weekends with them!


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