i would rediscover this site during finals week… approximately 36 hours before my first (and hardest) final..
And thus closes a chapter of my life.
Davis Racing Dragons. How can I recap all of this? Words can’t do it justice. But I shall attempt…
I remember in 2010, when I started my first competitive season of dragon boat racing. I knew that my years in high school were coming to an end and I was super nervous coming into college. I had no idea what to expect from college. But I had two fellow paddlers from Pioneer and DieselFish Youth coming to Davis with me. And we heard that Davis had a dragon boat team. We went and talked to some folks at May Race at Paragon Point. And we liked the vibe that we got from them. And it was then decided, for me atleast, that I would continue this sport in college.
In September, I arrived in Davis. Treasure Island was the first weekend of school. It was to be my last race with my high school team. It was to be my last race paddling with some of my closest friends. After that, who knew when I would paddle with them? Who knew that I may paddle against them in the years coming? And indeed, we had a successful weekend, getting 2nd in our division. It was an emotional weekend, 2 days, making memories that would last as long as my memory will. The very next week, I was at practice with Davis Racing Dragons. And wow, what a new experience that was. I came in and was paddling behind Fred and CQ, Nate and Brian behind me, and sharing a seat with Danny. I was on boat 1. Wow. The power I felt on that boat, I was amazed. I didn’t feel like I belonged on this crew. All of these guys were huge, so much more powerful, so much better paddlers. I felt a bit like an outsider. But everyone welcomed me in, made me a part of the crew. The family called DRD welcomed me in.
But it was a weird time in DRD’s history that I was entering in. The team was in a little bit of a transition, as some of the core had just left, and Fred was entering his stride in his first few months of coaching. I had even been accepted as a Dryland leader. It was my first quarter in college. I didn’t know anybody on the team, they didn’t know me, as a paddler or as a person. Yet I was leading my own workout group. I was a bit dejected at first, as only 3 people regularly came out to my workouts, but I ended up liking it. And that’s how I made my first friend on DRD, Kristin. College Cup came, and I made more friends on the team that weekend, housing at Jonathan’s, going to Fenton’s Creamery and all the racing. It was a great start to my career.
The next season was a bad season for me, personally. I only competed in one race with DRD, Regional Regatta. Once summer started, I was in San Jose and unable to make the trips up to Alameda for practices, thus, I went to DieselFish practices with my old teammates from high school. And it is a decision I still regret… While I still saw many of my DRD teammates at races, I didn’t get to partake in the social activities that accompany races. I missed out on a lot. When I came back after TI in 2011, it was a completely different experience. I had sustained an injury that prevented me from paddling without excessive pain. Doctors told me I had to rest it and undergo physical therapy to regain muscle control. I was devastated. I couldn’t paddle. I had become a certified steers, but that was just out of convenience, cycling through a practice so everyone gets time to work on their stroke. But now it seemed like it was all I could do for the next few months. Or so I thought. So I come out to a practice, started thinking that I could steer for DRD at College Cup. The team had changed. The atmosphere I experienced on that boat, I did not enjoy. I started dragon boat and stayed with dragon boat because paddlers can be both serious about paddling and yet still have fun out on the water. There was no fun being had. I decided then that my Saturdays may be spent better trying to rehab my injury, and attempt to make a comeback for the beginning of the next season, 6-7 months later.
Months of rehab under my belt, I felt better, didn’t get back spasms as often, was back in the ARC lifting, and had also bulked up. First practice of the season, I’m slated in as a paddler. It was too much. I felt the familiar pains, nothing had changed. I had no idea what to do, I was doing everything my PT had told me to, and my back did feel better, overall. I stayed on though, as a full time steers. I realized I couldn’t stay away from the sport voluntarily. I also applied to become part of the coaching staff, under Fred and John. Tomio, Ryan, and Lisa joined me, and we made up the coaching staff for the 2012 season. And what a season that was. The team climbed heights, and returned to its former glory. Every race, both Legend and Dairy, got better and better. It could be seen from the shore and could be felt inside the boats. Paddlers realized that they were climbing. The season came to its culmination on November 11, 2012. Dairy was placed into C Division, finished with a bronze. The first heat, barely held off Stanford and UCSD 2, and got fucked over by the race grid. We got placed in a heat that was seeded against us. Semis, something similar happened. By the finals, we had paddled against every boat that was vying for the C division championship. The Dairy crew improved heat by heat. And they gave it their all the final heat, the championship heat. And they pulled out the third. I was so proud of this crew. And then it was Legend’s turn. And boy did they have an epic race piece. All through the day, the crew was getting stronger, pulling out narrow victories over other boats, bringing it down to the finish line. And that’s how the day finished, a year ago. Legend was in the A championships, first time in a while. We have alignment. Paddlers are you ready. Attention please. Go. From the start, it was obvious this was gonna be a tight race. Legend jumped out to a strong lead, and kept building upon it. Halfway through, UCLA, UCSD and UCI started walking up. DRD was accelerating, but those 3 boats were accelerating a bit more. Going into the finish, they were a few rows ahead of the other three. But LA and SD started walking even more. Had the race course been a bit shorter, Legend may have held on. But it wasn’t meant to be. SD and LA swooped us. Watching from the shore, I was heartbroken. The golden dragon was within their grasp, but it slipped right through, into UCSD’s awaiting arms. SD had earned that repeat championship, and we made sure that they did earn it. But it left a sour taste in all of our mouths. It just slipped through our grasps. With the current coaching staff stepping down after this race, and a new one taking over the regime for next season, the stakes were high.
Ryan inherited the head coach title for the next season. I interviewed to undergo another season as captain for the team. But since I was taking EXB106L, anatomy lab, I had to study for quizzes and midterms during open lab on Saturdays. That meant that practices for winter quarter were out of the question. First race wasn’t til about the second weekend of Spring quarter. I thought that that’d be alright, I’d be around drylands and in contact with everyone. I could also use the head cam to analyze video footage. But that’s not how it played out. When the staff was announced, I have to admit, I was pretty hurt and kinda pissed. Two of those picks I agreed with. I have seen both start their dragon boat careers, and been their teammates for a long time. They are leaders, and that is always shown in how they approach this sport with their respective crews. But I didn’t agree with the third. He never really exemplified a leader. Yeah, he was motivational, especially in the weight room, but from previous comments about the team and his general attitude, I did not appreciate that pick and I did not think it was a correct one. Through the season, it was kinda apparent.
But I moved on. Whatever. I missed May Race, first time since I started paddling. I also missed sprints. Since I couldn’t paddle, I wanted to just steer this season. But by the end of spring quarter, a lot of things came up and I was going to miss a few more practices before the Sprints. So I knew that I wouldn’t be able to steer that. I did, however, want to take the helm for Long Beach, TI, and College Cup. That seemed to be the plan. I was in San Jose until after Long Beach. Had to figure out how to get up to Alameda for practices, since almost everyone else was coming from Davis. And yet I made it to every practice. Keeping Dairy on track, strategizing with Tomio, what worked, what didn’t, what could be added in order to help the crew out.
Long Beach weekend arrived and we all traveled down, and I struggled with the gates, but the crew kept faith in me. I did a decent enough job that Fred even had me steer for two of B.A.N.G.’s heats. This is kinda bad for me to say, but, that was one of my highlights of the weekend. I had never been on a boat that flew that fast. I think I may have cost them one first place finish because the power off the start got the boat veering to the left and I had trouble adjusting and keep it straight. It was like a car taking off so fast that it fish tails. Similar thing happened with B.A.N.G. But holy shit, that felt amazing. I’m truly thankful for that experience, steering it and witnessing it. I think it may have been that experience and being benched for TI that got me more serious about figuring out what was wrong with my back and why I can’t paddle. Long Beach, I felt, was a success. Both crews did well, a bit disappointed with performances, but that just gave motivation to move forward. Each race, I feel, is a stepping stone, to move forward and learn things from.
After Long Beach, I was told that I would not be steering TI. But not immediately. I just told the coaching staff to let me know when they needed me for practices, under the assumption that I would be steering Dairy yet again at TI. It wasn’t til a couple of weeks before TI, and a long time after I asked coaching staff, that I was told that I was not needed. That the other guy had worked hard over the summer to earn his TI certification. Although I had taken all of the practices during the summer. It made no sense to me. I was pissed. I had given so much time to this team. I got the feeling that I was being forced off the team. I physically can’t paddle, and now, the one thing I could do, I was being replaced at. More hurt. Figured this was it for me. Since CC was only a couple months from TI, coaches would have the same steers. Amazingly, they asked me to steer practices after TI. I was curious. Why the change? Why not have the same steers. Apparently, he wanted to paddle, not steer. So I was a second choice. Yup. This was it. Twould be my last season. I thought about it, then agreed to steer CC. Figured I might as well finish off this season, finish off my career with DRD how I had started it, at College Cup. So I took it on, came out to practices every week, and tried my best to enjoy each and every one of them, and make sure that each paddler performed better week after week after week.
And just this past weekend, College Cup arrived, and went. My last race in a DRD jersey. Wow. There were so many feels going into the weekend, and so many more coming out. I asked to specifically be put in Phil’s car. The people in that car, and the people in that housing situation, those were most of my closest DRD teammates and friends. They were there when I started, kinda felt right to be with them when I finished. I had a restless night beforehand. I was nervous. I hadn’t had these jitters in a long time. Woke up several times through the night, for no reason. When it finally came time to leave for the race site, I was ready. At the race, luckily, I didn’t have to steer for a few hours. So I just chilled, and got to see some people I hadn’t in a long time. Lori and Kenny, former teammates from DFY, were there with UCSD and, surprisingly, the Fungs were there too! DFY’s mom and dad were now fostering SJSU’s team. Seeing all these people from my past, from my beginning in the sport, to my current teammates, surrounding me, it gave me a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. And I don’t know exactly what it was. But I had felt it at every race in previous seasons. But this was the only time I had felt it this season. And it felt much stronger this time. I didn’t want this to end.
And then I took the water. Dairy’s first heat of the day. And I am sure I felt more nervous, more jittery than any of them did as we got on the boat. My body was shaking. I think I might have felt a bit more tired and expended after that race piece than my paddlers did. They had a decent piece, timing was iffy in places and could have been stronger throughout. Start was shaky at best. Going into semis, I was nervous. We were seeded poorly, and going against some very fast teams. UCLA 1, Cal 1, USC 1 & 2. All of these boats were fast. But, not to be shown up, Dairy gave them a run. Out of the gates, we fell behind. In addition, Stanford started veering into us, so I had to go off course a tad bit. That may have contributed, to the slow start, but, we recovered. The mid piece was awesome. We started pulling away from Stanford and USC 2, started walking on USC1. Cal and UCLA had already gotten half a boat on us by this time, and they kept going. As was expected. I just wanted to catch USC. I called an earlier finish, and we started walking on USC. What they had built as a boat length lead started to diminish. By the finish line, we finished about a half boat behind them. Regardless, I felt great about the piece. At the second half push call, they gave it their all. I then knew, that when that’s called, they downshift quickly and accelerate fast.
Finals came around. We’re in B division. We all knew that. Tomio, Kristin and I talked an strategized. We’d spam power 5s this time. I didn’t care that my back was shit. I would carry each and every one of these paddlers off the boat if they couldn’t themselves. This was it, on many different levels. Last race of the day for everyone. Last race of the season for everyone. Last race of their career for a select few. The jitters came back for me. At the start line. Heart pounding. Eyes going in and out of focus. Trying to get lined up, give my crew a bit of an edge. But there was that other boat, holding this shit up. Everyone is lined up but them. I was about to yell “get your shit together” right when the announcer called “we have alignment.” All of a sudden, I feel the atmosphere get tensed. 6 boats. One goal, the finish line. Who was going to get there first. Go. The boat launches. Everyone’s in time. All the boats are neck and neck. No one had a clear edge. First power 5, we gain a bit. But then USC1 and SFSU keep gaining on us. They’re about half a boat ahead of us. Oh shit. UCI2 and UCSC on the far side were hanging with us, might have even been a few rows ahead. We needed more power. I call the second half push. And shit. We fly. The boat starts moving. Grunt stroke now. Power five now. We’re a seat behind UCSC. 6 behind SFSU, about 8 behind USC1. Power five now. Power five now. Finish it now. Push. Push. Push. We cross the finish line. I look across, SFSU is about 4 rows ahead, USC about 5 or 6. Further across, UCSC is right there. To me, looks like Lucy was behind me. I was sure of it. We had gotten third. I was happy. Crew didn’t know anything. They knew it was close. And it was. We got off the boat. I tell them that they were walking at the finish, don’t know if they walked enough. But I knew they had. I had seen the finish. JohnYu also told me that we had third. I didn’t question it. I just knew it. And like that. My time on the water with DRD was over. But the race wasn’t.
Earlier during the day, I saw JohnYu’s sweatshirt. It was a gift that Dairy had given their coach at the end of a season. It had the names of every paddler on Dairy in 2010. I realize that almost all of the current Legend line up has their name on that sweatshirt. They had joined when I did. This was my class. And they were the core of the team, leading the charge into the A division finals. Legend is up. From the start, from the shore, looked like they had the lead. They start pulling away, but once again, UCLA, UCSD, UCI and Cal all start making moves up. 100 meters from the finish, we still have the lead, though only by a few rows now. The finish is called. I’m lying down at the finish line, waiting to see the number 6 cross the line first. It didn’t. UCSD had swooped once again.. The all too familiar feeling had come back. Had come so close, but it slipped through our grasps. There was nothing more the crew could have done. They had had the race piece of their lives. They had given it their, were in time almost perfectly, each power they hit strong. And when they came off the boat and up the ramp into our tunnel, they were happy, smiling, crying. What began as a tunnel ended as a conglomerate of teammates hugging each other, crying with each other, thanking each other. This team had put its heart and soul into a common activity and had grown close because of it. But it was now over. It is the end of an era.
As we move on from the success that was College Cup 2013, I want to thank everyone that has ever paddled with me, for me, and against me. It is because of all of you that I fell in love with this sport. The competition on the water, the camaraderie on land, it is unparalleled in the field of sports. Especially, thank you to the class of 2014. Tomio, Donny, Kristin, Sandy, Jamie, Bruce, Ryan Chiang, Solongo, Janet, Romer, Paul, Victoria, Andy, and Ryan Tam, thank you. While I wish that it wasn’t ending, things are what they are. But despite this, it was a fun and memorable ride. I love you all.
And thus closes a chapter of my life, one of the most influential chapters of my life.
Davis Racing Dragons.