“Just step off the dock, onto the boat.” My sister held the sunflower-coloured sit-on-top kayak close to the dock.
“Um…” My feet were rooted to the wooden boards. I already had a life jacket snugged down tight, and a paddle in my hand. But my feet were not volunteering to “just step off the dock”.
“Here – I’ll show you.”
Catherine, a nationally-ranked flatwater paddler who was coaching Team BC at the time, hopped off the dock and seated herself in the boat in one lithe movement.
As if she was born to do that.
Maybe she was.
Catherine has been paddling since she took a summer camp in middle school. She might have been 12 or 13. Soon she was paddling year-round.
As she rose through the ranks, her experience and her passion grew apace. She has paddled nationally and internationally, representing Canada at Worlds more than once. When it came to qualifying for Olympic trials, Catherine had to make a choice: was paddling going to be her only activity, or did she want to pursue other interests?
The more well-rounded life won out, and Catherine went on to get her PhD at UBC, while continuing to be active in paddling competition. Her range expanded from K1, K2, and K4 to include other boats and teams. When she and her partner, Graham, were invited to join a dragon boat team in Vancouver, Catherine lit up.
This is the most fun I’ve seen Catherine have paddling in a long time.
Most of the dragon boat teams I’ve seen are mixed – men and women; Catherine and Graham are on the same team, practicing on False Creek when they are home in Vancouver (pic above).
Last summer their team went to Prague to compete in Dragon boat World Competition.
Even though they have spent the time since Prague in Sweden, where Catherine is doing research at a Swedish university, this summer they will travel with same team for this year’s Dragon boat Festival, paddling in Hong Kong harbour.
A documentary film, titled In the Same Boat, is being made about dragon boat culture in Vancouver, BC.
In this early trailer, we hear from Kamini Jain, the coach for Catherine and Graham’s team. At 0:58, you can catch a glimpse of Catherine, the red-bandanna-of-fury.
The most exciting thing I get from these trailers is this: the camaraderie and sense of community on the water. Men and women, of all ages, come together as a team and race – moving their bodies in an age-old rhythm.
In fact, we are all in the same boat.
That day at the lake, once Catherine had me settled into my kayak, I struck out on my own. Sitting level with the water, I was able to glide along the surface, dipping the paddle to steer a course.
As I became more comfortable, I noticed the complicated structure of the beaver dam, the birds skating among the rushes. Catherine gave me tips, sharing her experience, but mostly she just let me figure it out.
I figured out that I love it.