Paddling In New Zealand
After an exciting period of planning, a group of paddlers from the Montreal Two Abreast Dragon Boat team joined other paddlers from Nova Scotia to Vancouver to form three Canadian teams for the Inaugural South Pacific Breast Cancer Regatta. Participants received uniforms reflecting the Canadian colours and sporting a maple leaf. In March, we flew to Auckland, New Zealand.
Our team had been together for only four days before the Regatta began. Becoming accustomed to a new team, using different boats and paddling in the ocean presented a number of challenges. Our Montreal coach had the extremely difficult task of balancing weight and position in boats that were inclined to tip. We were lucky that our practices went smoothly, but the two other Canadian teams did not fare as well. Their boats capsized several times.
On the day of the Regatta, we were surprised to find that we were to paddle a significant distance in the ocean. We had to cope with unrelenting waves unlike anything that we had encountered in the calm, predictable waters of the Olympic Basin. There was a fair amount of tension during our first race as we adjusted to the strange situation and we were relieved when it was over. Our coach reassured us that, although we had improved during our practices, we had not yet performed at our best.
We had to wait through several delays for our final race that day; it was getting dark and cold and there was now a light drizzle. We climbed in and headed for the starting position. The coach suggested that we practice some starts on the way so we took up our positions, heads down, readying ourselves mentally and physically. I heard, "One, two, three — oh!!" and looked up to see someone diving into the water. I knew we were in trouble. Then I was in the water, surprised that I had not panicked! I had always imagined that I would panic if the boat were to capsize, but I felt calm and fearless. I have no recollection of slipping from the boat or of going under, but I must have because most of my team mates had vivid recollections of their dunking.
I looked around, spotted the weak swimmers and realized that all was well despite how widely scattered we were. There were only three people near me although there had been seven people behind me in the boat. The rescuers quickly arrived and it was an ordeal to climb into their continually heaving boats. To add insult to injury, we were disqualified without even getting to the start position! Although the coach knew that our boat had tipped four times that same day and protested the disqualification, it was in vain.
It was now dark. Wet and cold, we left. Our coach told us that this little adventure would turn out to be the most memorable part of the trip. He was right. This, despite the fact that our races went smoothly the next day — to the point of winning a silver paddle.
From Auckland, we travelled to Wellington for the final Regatta. On the way, we visited the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, spent one night with a farm family, and visited three farms — one that grew kiwis, one that processed apples, and a dairy farm. We also went to the Agrodome where we were entertained by sheep! A wild fashion event where twenty stunning, curly-haired sheep showed off the latest in high fashion. The enthusiastic audience witnessed a beautiful exhibition of New Zealand wool garments. We were also given a guided tour of the Waimangu Thermal Geysers, hot springs responsible for the cheap power in this country. (The monthly electrical bill for a studio apartment is about six dollars!) At the Tamaki Maori Village, we were entertained while feasting on traditional foods cooked on stones in underground pits. And then we were taken to a Polynesian Spa resort, warmed by the thermal geysers, where we shed our aches and pains. We were rejuvenated.
We arrived in Wellington late in the evening and shared a tent with the other Canadian teams, giving us a welcome chance to socialize. After our Auckland adventure, it took will power to climb into the boats although they seemed to sit in the calm waters of a picturesque lagoon. However, as we pulled away from the lagoon towards the starting line, we found ourselves again in turbulent waters. Our coach assured us that the harder we paddled, the more stabilized the boat would be. Despite his soothing words, there were times when the waves were so high and violent, coming at us from all sides, that, no matter how hard I tried, I was paddling air.
Then the other two Canadian boats capsized. To see these women and their paddles floating about reminded me of a scene from "Titanic."
It seemed an eternity before the rescue boats arrived. After another long delay, we again set out for the starting line; by this time, the winds were even stronger, the waves were high and sustained, and at one point my paddle was whipped right out of the water. I was pushed sideways from my seat but managed to right myself. Although buffeted by the wind and waves, we were determined to stay afloat. And we did.
On the final day of the regatta, two Canadian teams were reduced to one since it was decided to enter only those paddlers prepared to continue Weather conditions had worsened and we were totally uncoordinated but we stayed afloat. We drew on our competitive spirit, disregarded what we could not control and, despite paddling in a lane open to the rigours of the ocean, came in third.
After the race, we paddled back to the lagoon where we were greeted by twelve hefty Maori warriors chanting the famous Haka, 'Ka mate ka mate.' The Haka is used to summon courage for those about to engage in battle, and to instil fear into the foe. It is a physical and emotional performance. Now, focused on our team, this was indeed an honour and an exhilarating experience — a special and unforgettable celebration to end our paddling competition in New Zealand.
For information on becoming a team member of Two Abreast, please call 514.387.6132.