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Youth Spotlight - California Dragon Boat Association

April 19, 2018 Cali Paddler

CDBA YouthIt is often said that paddling takes time for us to fully appreciate how special it is. However we have found that some of those who 'get it' the best are found in the youth paddling community. In a continued effort to shine a well-deserved light on the future of our paddle sports, and in anticipation of the upcoming high-caliber youth-only dragon boat race (at Lake Merced in San Francisco this Sunday April 22), we spoke with some of the top youth role-models in our sport. Enjoy being blown away by their candor and wisdom. And be reminded like we were, that paddling is not just a sport, but a parable for succeeding in life.

[ Huge thank you to Team Writer Justin Chi, who undertook this ambitious project for everyone to enjoy. His love of paddling and support for our youth is unparalleled. Cali Paddler is incredibly grateful for his willingness to help us spotlight the the community. ]

Rosa Zhang | Daven Ng | Angela Chen | Brandon Nguyen
Karina Leung | Jason Tan | Hanh Larson


CDBA Youth Spotlight

Rosa Zhang ♀ of Lowell High School Dragon Boat
High School Senior
Paddling since entering high school and making niche sports sound normal

How did you start paddling?
I signed up on the first day of orientation with a friend from elementary school. I used to swim competitively and played other sports, so dragon boat didn't seem that crazy out of my reach. I [also] play a sport called underwater hockey which is also a niche sport, so [dragon boat] was [just] another sport, that's fine!

How do you explain the sport?
It's very much a team sport and collaborative because of how much time and effort that goes into keeping the boat together and syncing up. It's an experience where I get to meet a lot of friends from different grades to be ambitious and push our boundaries. It's kind of like canoeing and kayaking but with a really heavy boat and a lot of people.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
I think they're a lot more individualistic [like swimming]. I used to sail a little bit and paddle boarded before, but nothing really beats being on a team surrounded by all my friends working hard together.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
Over the past couple of years, I feel like there have been freedoms and restrictions. Freedoms as in, a lot of the youth have been getting involved with events, and a lot of the teams in the Bay Area are doing a lot more international races. It's really cool to meet adults who paddle a lot competitively and continue to do it. On the flip side, there should be a bit more emphasis to retain the programs and keep them strong and established. High school teams don't often get to meet adult paddlers. There aren't [many] adult paddlers who have been a large part of a team who weren't alumni.

How has paddling changed your life?
Being a student at a school that prides its academic rigor, I [also] really want to pursue my athletic abilities and improve my physical and mental health. I love being in dragon boat because it [has] nurtured bonds with my teammates who are some of my closest friends now. People who are ambitious together and have a common goal can achieve really good things. From freshman to senior year, looking back on photos of myself and some of the workouts, I feel so much stronger and healthier because of dragon boat and the relationships I've built with my teammates.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
We never know what other teams will bring or how much they've improved. Our focus is always on ourselves -- being stronger as a crew and not comparing ourselves with others. We've grown a lot since last semester, so I'm excited to share that growth out on the lake. Hopefully we get some good results.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
Afterward I really like tea eggs. I eat a lot of almonds -- we roast them at home. Before I try to eat clean and healthy with good carbs and a little bit of good protein. During I drink a lot of water to be very hydrated.

What is life outside of dragon boat?
I study a lot. I'm thinking of majoring in chemical engineering -- I want to work on solar panels and batteries. I play underwater hockey -- I went to world championships on the US U-19 women's team this past summer and got to play against Columbia, New Zealand, and other countries around the world. I sing for my chamber choir at school, play piano, and yeah, that's about it!

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Daven Ng ♂ of Galileo High School Dragon Boat
High School Junior
4th year paddling

Currently assistant manager coordinating events like bonding and pre-race dinners, talking with coaches and parents, and helping make sure practices and behind-the-scenes go smoothly.

How did you start paddling?
I started in 7th grade summer. I'm pretty sure my mom was sick of me sitting around at home playing video games all day. She told my cousin who gave me an opportunity to paddle and would eventually become my coach. My motivation was focused on getting fit and strong, but before that I was kind of anti-social and didn't branch out.

How do you explain the sport?
I get this question a lot since on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), I'll carry my paddle and PFD (personal flotation device) with me. People would ask, "What sport is that?" or "What instrument do I play?"

In a broad scope, dragon boat is a long boat with 20 paddlers, 10 rows, 2 people per row, a steersperson and drummer. We use strength to paddle from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
It gives you a whole new feel of the water and how to move the boat. You can take what you learn and put it back into any paddle sport. We've looked at stand-up paddlers for ways to implement their technique and make ours better.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
I think it's really widespread and going in a positive direction. We have a lot of new paddlers coming in and taking interest in the sport. When I travel, I like to see how other youth teams perform. Recently we went up to Vancouver and were able to see some strong youth teams. There is so much more out there that we haven't seen yet, and it makes me excited to be able to compete against them.

How has paddling changed your life?
I've been able to branch out and get outside my comfort zone. I'm really happy to help other people. It's taught me how to be patient. The people you meet in dragon boat... I'm going to remember them for the rest of my life.

The biggest lesson I'm taking on -- it's not how much you train individually, it's how much you train as a team. The heart and passion is what wins the race and makes the boat reach its full potential.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
I'm really excited for it! I tend to be a competitive person, and nothing beats the feeling of seeing my team and other teams pushing themselves to get ready for race day. I love the youth race because of the opportunity to bond with teammates, and everyone is there to paddle for one purpose.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
For pre-race dinner last year we had burrito bowls. We tend not to eat that much during the race, but we'll have fruit snacks and a lot of water. After the race however, that's when we all dig in and eat a lot -- gorging with your team is one of the better parts of race day too!

What is life outside of dragon boat?
There's a lot of dragon boat in my life. I think it takes up pretty much 95% of it. However, [I'll also be] working on homework, studying, and SAT stuff. Also with teammates and close friends, we'll play video games -- a lot of Fortnite and Brawlhalla (which is kind of like Super Smash Brothers with 8 people) -- our coaches come and play with us sometimes!

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Angela Chen ♀ of CYC Dragon Boat
High School Senior
4th year paddling / first race was the CDBA Youth Race
Currently captain [completing] logistics like paperwork and waivers, running workouts, getting people into crews, and planning timelines like fitness goals.

How did you start paddling?
Freshman year at orientation, I had seen videos of [the sport] and had cousins who did it. I came from a really small school so I thought it would be a really great opportunity to meet new friends. After a few practices, I found it really fun, the community was so inviting, and I really loved the sport. It felt like I had known everyone on the team for so long already -- they treated me as if I were family.

How do you explain the sport?
I've run into this a lot recently because I'm looking for dorm mates for college next year, and they've asked, "What sports do you do?" And when I say, "Dragon boat," they'll be like, "What's that?"

It's two people in a row with ten rows and a drummer and a steersperson, and you only paddle one side at a time. People to seem understand a little better when I compare it to rowing.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
I've always wanted to try kayaking instead of paddling. I think it's so cool! Hopefully in college maybe, that'll happen.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
I think it's really amazing. Teams are going way faster. What averages were like [back] then and compared to now, it's crazy. It's getting really competitive and I think it's really great.

How has paddling changed your life?
I wasn't very confident in myself especially physically. I didn't think I was strong or could do anything that my teammates could do. On my first day, it was arm day, and they did one set of a hundred push-ups, and I couldn't even do one. [However] because they were so encouraging, I didn't feel like I was weak -- I felt empowered to step it up and work out on my own. From that, I've gained my own confidence, and I feel mentally strong -- when you're on the water and you hit that halfway point and don't know if you can keep going or not, you push through because of all the [team] support and lessons you've learned from your training. Knowing that I can go from being able to do zero push-ups to lead a dragon boat team has given me the confidence to face challenges that I will be facing in the future. It's really amazing to see what this sport can do for people.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
I'm definitely really excited. I love races because they're so fun. This is what we've worked for, so it feels really good to put it all out on the water. It's also bittersweet because it's my last youth race racing. It's really amazing to see my whole journey looking back, all four years put together, it's just really cool.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
Granola bars and energy cubes, and snacks throughout the day like fruits and boiled eggs. Oh, Gatorade! Gotta have Gatorade and water. Stay hydrated! After races, literally anything. We're always so hungry afterwards. The last race we went out for burritos and I was very happy.

What is life outside of dragon boat?
Cooking pretty much anything -- in middle school I got an audition for Master Chef Junior. Also CYC leadership programs and working with kids over the summer at the YMCA. I work at a rolled ice cream shop [Let's Roll].

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Brandon Nguyen ♂ of DieselFish Youth
High School Senior
Paddling since sophomore year
Currently captain who keeps practices fun and competitive, helps with leadership, and manages rides and carpools to practice on a team with a majority of seniors and only a few juniors, sophomores, and freshmen.

How did you start paddling?
I first heard about the sport from one of my close family friends, and at school, some of my friends were recruiting so they asked me to sign up. My friends were like, "I'll do it, if you do it." Getting exercise was nice, and being around everyone else -- practices were always fun, challenging, and something new for me.

How do you explain the sport?
It's kind of like rowing with two people in each row, one person on each side, twenty people who try to paddle in time and get through [the race] with one person steering and a coach in the front.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
I kayaked one time in Tahoe, and that was a lot of fun. Some of my teammates and coaches talk about outrigger canoe. I haven't given the other ones a try, but I would be totally down but haven't had the opportunity to do so.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
We're competitive, but that doesn't stop us from interacting with other teams like when we're marshaling. We're all high school students, so we're all just trying to have fun. Everyone's really helpful to the [new paddlers].

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
I'm feeling optimistic. Training has been going okay -- we've been struggling with numbers and getting people to come out. We started with 30ish people but it's kind of dwindled down to 15. Overall training has been nice. I want to have fun and make sure that everyone leaves everything out there so no one has any regrets about the race.

How has paddling changed your life?
Before paddling I was pretty lazy and would sit at my computer and play games all day. Now I enjoy going outside, going for a run, and exercising more. I'm pretty introverted and shy, so being on the team helped me become less shy and more sociable.

Teamwork and camaraderie -- for paddling, you have to trust your teammates and know that they'll do their job so that everyone gets across the finish line. The aspect of trusting other people [by] letting them worry about what they need to do and focusing on what you need to do... working hard to reach your goal.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
No specific meal but sometimes spaghetti [before races]. [During races] I snack on whatever is there. [After races] whatever the team wants to go eat -- two years ago we went to a Thai place, and we've been to hot pot.

What is life outside of dragon boat?
I have a job [at Baskin-Robbins], but it's not too much of a struggle to balance everything out. I go to school, go home, do homework, play games -- League of Legends and Fortnite. I usually arrange work and practice to be on different days so I have time to relax.

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CDBA Youth

Karina Leung ♀ of Washington High School Dragon Boat
High School Senior
4th year paddling
Currently involved with the youth leadership council of California Dragon Boat Association with writing grants to different youth funding organizations to have more events and shadowing race directors to learn more about the sport and contribute to the community.

How did you start paddling?
Freshman orientation is a big event for the team since a lot of the middle schoolers haven't seen the sport so it's a chance to give the sport exposure. I saw a huge group of kids goofing off and passing flyers. One day at PE class, one girl told me to go, so I went, and now she's my best friend, and we both paddle together. I started paddling as a way to make friends initially. I came into the sport not being athletic. The sport was a huge wake up call, and the team became a family for me.

How do you explain the sport?
I've gotten yelled at by cars driving by while I'm carrying a paddle walking home. It's a team sport, not rowing, but paddling. It's a sport with 22 people in a boat -- one's in the front giving directions, another's in the back guiding the boat, and the other 20 are paddling in perfect synchronization. It's the ultimate team sport.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
They're all so interesting. They all have paddles but in different environments. The other sports just seem so wild and out there, but I know it's all the same concept.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
The dragon boat community is growing. The adults and youth are aware of it, and collectively we want to make dragon boat more well-known and get the recognition it deserves. It gets difficult trying to practice for months on end and only having a few races in comparison to other sports where there are games every other week.

How has paddling changed your life?
Paddling broke me out of the timid and shy shell. I used to be so afraid to speak out and say my mind, but with paddling, you need to be able to accept and give critique so your team can benefit. I've grown a lot and become more mature in my thoughts and how I deliver my words.

[I've learned] skills to make friends. By making all these connections and having [this team as] my family, I feel a lot more comfortable with people now than I did four years ago.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
The past three years, whenever it was the youth race, the seniors would [remind us] that it was their last race. I [would] want to give it my all so they can go home with a medal. I'm so nervous because it's finally my turn to say [it's my last race]. I hope my underclassmen have the same thoughts that I did. I'm excited because we've been working for months up to this point.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
Before we eat a lot of pasta, Chinese food, or Korean barbecue. During the races I don't really eat much because there's so much going on -- maybe eat some spam musubi, a muffin, or a banana. I just want to keep moving around during race day. After race meal is fried chicken and fried rice!

What is life outside of dragon boat?
My counselor would say I'm a nerd. I like art, reading, hanging out with friends, and getting good grades to make my parents proud. I've been drawing and painting since I was 3. When I'm feeling creative, I'm sketching whatever I see and inspires me. I like going to [Japantown] for cheap pre-made meals to [bring to] the park, sit down, hang out, and have a picnic.

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CDBA Youth Spotlight

Jason Tan ♂ of Lincoln High School Dragon Boat
High School Senior
4th year paddling
Known for hyping up the team before races and has done race commentary for CDBA.
Lincoln has around 100+ people with four boats (white, black, red, gold) and is paddling at Hungary this summer.

How did you start paddling?
I went in during [freshman] orientation day at school and saw a booth. The coach was really outgoing and magnetic. I had seen dragon boat before at the Treasure Island festival with paddlers shouting and paddling and thought it looked pretty fun. Back in the day there were no tryouts so you could just show up and get on the boat. Also, my mom pushed me and said I had to do something.

How do you explain the sport?
Most people have a vague idea because when you say Lake Merced, they'll default to, "So it's like rowing, right?" [To explain it], imagine you're canoeing except there are 20 other people, somebody sitting next to you, and you have to canoe at the same time as everybody else. Also you have lots of people yelling at you.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
Right now I go out to Alameda sometimes to paddle 6-man outrigger to improve on our dragon boat experience. Our team has a nice running joke of doing oc tricks like flipping the paddle over the head and behind the back... it's very entertaining to watch while paddling. The other water sports are definitely really cool, and I think a lot of skills can be transferred from one sport to another.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
The youth scene overall is very competitive because even with how well with how we are doing, you can still see how all the other boats are all breathing down each other's necks. However sometimes it's a bit understaffed -- one team disbanded because they lacked a coach. Other teams don't have the amount of coaches that they need to be on the water which is kind of a big issue. A lot of the people that do youth dragon boat get put into very nice communities. They [participate] with their friends, have a great time, and get a good workout in. It's a good little niche.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
The overall feeling of my boat... we are cautious, but I think we have a good amount of confidence. For this race we've been training and working hard just chugging away at Lake Merced. The focus has been on the fact that we're going to an international race. This youth race is more like a stepping stone rather than an end goal.

How has paddling changed your life?
I used to be very small, chubby, rotund, and fairly shy. Over the years, I've been able to get to know the coaches, make and have such good friends and role models in my life, and overall be surrounded by this big and engaging community. It's changed me in a way which I can constantly say that had I had not done dragon boat, my life would be significantly worse. Times that I spent with upperboaters (red/gold) gave me a lot of confidence in myself.

Communication, friendliness, and intimacy is really something that I'll take with me. Learning how group dynamics works is definitely a great skill for later on in life. And definitely fitness. Fitness is important. I've gained tenacity, because when you're at the end of your rope of a race piece or doing one of many land trainings, it's perseverance.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
Before we do races, we usually end up shacking in some Chinese restaurants and stuffing ourselves with rice. During a race, since we have a lot of parents that are involved, we get a big tent, and they prepare all the food -- we even get porridge in the mornings and barbecue. It's amazing, we're spoiled. After a race, we go home and sleep it off. It's a big day from 6:00a with racing until 5:00p.

What is life outside of dragon boat?
For me, balancing school and dragon boat is challenging. Dragon boat is a very large commitment of time when you include gymming, practice, and erging. It's [tough] when you're trying to study for AP exams but you gotta run to the lake. But I like working on things on my computer like writing, design, and also reading. Going to the gym with friends and messing around with the machines is a very fun activity.

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CDBA Youth Spotlight

Hanh Larson ♀ of Mission High School Dragon Boat
High School Senior
4th year paddling
Currently one of three captains and was assistant captain last year after applying and being selected by the coaches. Handles a lot of paperwork -- waivers, flyers, and posters, and helps lead land training during water practices.

How did you start paddling?
During a summer course of my freshman year, one of the coaches [and] teacher took us out on a field trip to paddle. Also, the first day of school I got stopped in the hallways by one of our seniors who told me to join dragon boat, and I was too scared to say, "No!" She was really scary... and big [to a freshman]. *laughs*

How do you explain the sport?
It's kind of like the aspects of crew but with a giant canoe and twenty people.

What are your thoughts on the other paddle sports?
I think they all have their different appeals and charms. Dragon boat is more like a sprint, and outrigger canoe is more like a marathon. A lot of dragon boaters transition later on because outrigger is a lot calmer, [but] we do canoe time trials. We have two man canoes [like the ones used for camping] and have people race in them with a steersperson.

What do you think about the youth dragon boat paddle scene?
It's changing a lot. In San Francisco, there are a lot of really big teams, and there aren't that many small teams left. A lot of the youth teams are very strong and super duper fast.

How has paddling changed your life?
Traditionally I'm a soccer player of 12 years. Dragon boat made me well-rounded and gave me something to do while on injury. I've dislocated my knee cap and torn my ACL twice. I've had two surgeries, and I'm getting a third one at the end of the school year. Not being able to play [soccer] in college was very hard because it was something I've worked very hard for. Having dragon boat there and being able to paddle softened the blow.

I've learned how to build connections, network, and meet new people. Also patience and being able to communicate and grow as a leader. I had to understand that not everyone will learn the way that I do.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming CDBA Youth Race?
We've definitely had our ups and downs this season. We've scrimmaged and done really well, and some practices are better than others. It's a little stressful -- one of our old coaches recently retired, but the team is changing a lot.

What do you eat before, during, and after races?
Before races... pasta -- carb loading because it's a lot of races in a long day. During races, I like to eat a lot of fruit and what's there. After races, I'll eat whatever I want to celebrate.

What is life outside of dragon boat?
Right now my whole life kind of revolves around dragon boat because there are a lot of things that have to get done. Before I would go from soccer to dragon boat to soccer and back to dragon boat, but it's pretty relaxed, and [my teammates and I] spend a lot of time together after practices and during lunch. We like to eat!

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While we are stoked to spotlight these seven remarkable youth paddlers, we fully know there are others out there deserving to have their story told. We can't wait to meet you all as well, and look forward to it happening soon! Thank you all or being Cali Paddlers, and being a part of this community.

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