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My athletic profile probably matches that of many parents. I’m a mid-30s dad who spends equal time chasing a toddler and working in front of a computer. I have plenty of functional strength, that is, for lifting a two year old, but not much time for regular workouts or sustained commitments. All this makes it tough to join a sport.
Every article I read about dragon boat racing while learning about the Dragon Boat Festival promised the same thing: An accessible and fun team sport open to all ages and skill levels with a welcoming community. Intrigued and hopeful, I had to try it out.
So on a recent Saturday morning, I layered up and joined the Oakland Renegades for practice at the Jack London Aquatic Center on the Oakland Estuary facing Alameda. The team was formed in 2009 and every year hosts the Oakland Dragon Boat Festival and the Halloween Howl on Lake Merritt.
If the key to growing a sport is welcoming newcomers, then the Renegades are great ambassadors. Walking in from the parking lot, I was immediately brought into the group and helped with finding a life jacket and a paddle. The friendly faces and supportive environment reminded me of the club sports community I enjoyed so much in college.
We set off from shore in two dragon boats, each powered by 14-16 paddlers and steered by a captain at the rear. I quickly lost any lingering chill from the morning’s gray conditions as our warm up strokes took us to the middle of the estuary between Oakland and Alameda.
The morning’s practice consisted primarily of simulated starts and 500 meter race sprints that propelled us around the Encinal Basin, along the Alameda waterfront and past the U.S. Coast Guard base. The boat captains provided great instruction about proper form, race conditions and teamwork.
There was great camaraderie in the boats during the entire practice. We sat in tightly spaced rows, requiring lots of coordination and timing to stay in unison with the lead paddlers at the front of the boat. When we were all pulling together, however, the boat flew and felt like it was skimming across the water.
I can say confidently that my form and stamina were pretty poor as a first timer. I paddled too much with just my arms, which was exhausting and caused me to burn out quickly. A more complete stroke using my abs, back and hips would have probably saved me from needing to skip every second or third stroke by the end of practice.
After two hours on the water with the Oakland Renegades, I’m a convert. Dragon boating is a full body workout that’s both easy to pick up and full of nuance to master. And, if your experience matches mine with the Renegades, you’ll feel like a part of a great community after your first practice.
If you’re interested in joining, the Oakland Renegades launch from the Jack London Aquatic Center on Saturdays at 10:15 AM and Wednesdays at 5:45 PM. More information is available at OaklandRenegades.org.
HT: I’d like to thank the Oakland Renegades and boat captains Mike O’Meara and Rocky Laber for the warm welcome and great instruction. Photo from the Oakland Renegades Facebook page.