Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dragon boat paddling: What to wear

With the season's first dragon boat races in the Pacific Northwest coming up in April, dragon boat teams are recruiting new paddlers now. One of the first questions newbies ask is: "What do I wear to paddle a dragon boat?"

First of all, I always wear my paddling dragon tattoo! It empowers me to move forward with confidence.

After paddling for two years in all kinds of weather--from 34 degrees to pounding rain to downright hot days--I have a good idea of what clothing works for me. Now that it's nearly spring and temperatures are well above freezing, it's time to shed our winter Gator Gloves and winter hats.

Every paddler has her own clothing preferences, body temperature and budget. You'll find what works for you through trial and error. You don't have to spend a fortune to outfit yourself for dragon boating, but if you insist on buying everything new and not on sale, you could.

I'm lucky to live in the Portland metro area with plenty of options for purchasing clothing. Almost every bit of my paddling clothing I've bought used, mostly at various Goodwill stores. The only things I insist on buying new is footwear and gloves. I wash all my thrift shop purchases before wearing them.

Here's what I wore this morning to paddle on a cloudy day with temperature around 50 degrees:

* Sports bra: quick dry and breathable. My favorite is a Nike Dri-fit with a comfy racing back. It covers my torso almost to my naval. It dries quickly, and that's crucial on race days when you'll wear your paddling clothes all day. On hot summer days, you'll want a regular sports bra.

* Paddling shirt: again,quick dry, moisture wicking and breathable. I prefer short sleeves because long sleeves get wet and make me uncomfortable. But some women prefer long sleeves.

* Paddling pants: quick dry and breathable. Regular yoga pants won't work because when you get them wet--and you WILL get your pants wet--they don't dry out, and then it feels as if you're wearing a wet diaper. I like the capris length. Our team wears black on the bottom, and so do many other teams. I do have a pair of full-length black pants to wear when it's a bit cold, but beginning in spring, I wear capris for practice and on race day. This race season I hope to buy these cool capris emblazoned with a dragon. They're available online via Double Fifth Dragon Boating.

* Paddling skort: On warm days, some women prefer paddling skorts, short skirts with built-in shorts underneath. I'm not ready to rock this look, but here's a picture of one from Double Fifth Dragon Boating. Some women also wear quick-dry shorts.

* Rain pants: Dragon boating is a water sport, and you will get wet. Sometimes you'll get a tiny bit wet; other days, you'll be soaked. You'll need rain gear for the top and bottom. My rain gear is from Goodwill. They don't match, but they keep me dry. This morning, when it was a little drizzly, I wore my capris paddling pants and on top of that, I wore my rain pants, which are Columbia Sportswear Omnitech pants with a drawstring waist (a must so you can cinch them tighter as you begin losing weight from the hard work of paddling a dragon boat!). Look for rain pants with zippered pockets. I paid only $9.95 for mine at Goodwill.
* Lightweight, quick drying, moisture-wicking, water repellant rain jacket: You'll be paddling in the rain and will need a good rain coat that falls below your waist and is comfortable to wear paddling. I found mine at Goodwill and paid $9.95. It has a hood with a drawstring I can cinch tight if I'm paddling in a deluge. The wrists have Velco around them so I can tighten and loosen it. The coat also has both interior and exterior zippered pockets. You don't want a fussy coat that's hard to remove because you might have to shed it quickly and fling it into the bottom of the boat, or sit on it during a water break. This morning, I was overheated and at our first water break, I pulled off my PFD, removed my raincoat, put my PFD back on, zipped it up, and gulped some water before our coach gave us the "paddles up" warning that our short break was over.

* Footwear: Most of the year I wear my Keen sandals when I paddle. They protect my toes, have sturdy tread, let water run through when I step into a boat with water at the bottom, and they let me feet breathe on hot days. During the cold, wet months of winter paddling, I usually wear my tall, rubber rain boots from Costco. I've seen them at Target too. However, some coaches don't want their paddlers wearing boots. If the boat fills with water and you have to swim, it would be difficult to swim wearing rubber boots that come almost up to your knees. When I first started paddling, I wore an old pair of rafting sandals, but they left my toes exposed. Some paddlers wear old sneakers. I tried that, but your feet always get wet, and wearing wet sneakers made my feet cold. But paddlers wear all kinds of footwear, and if you visit an outdoor store with a decent shoe department, you'll find many styles of river shoes.

* PFD (personal flotation device, or life jacket): Yes, you'll need one especially for paddling, and if it needs to be snug, hug your body, not ride up, but be comfy so you have full range of motion. You'll want one with zippered pockets. I bought mine used right off my coach's back! Teams usually have matching PFDs used only for race day, but paddlers need their own PFDs for practice. Portland DragonSports owns several one-size-fits-all PFDs down at the dock, but if you're a smaller person, you'll find it frustrating. And these often are damp. This photo is my dream PFD, an MTI Moxi. I don't own this, but hope to someday.

* Water bottle: You'll want a water bottle. During practice, we take our water bottles onto the boat, but on race day, we don't. Sometimes I reuse a plastic bottle from water I've purchased. I keep filling it up. You can spend more money and get better water bottles. Be warned that I've lost several water bottles that have bounced out of the boat.

* Dry sack to keep your valuables dry and safe. My first year of paddling, I didn't have a dry sack, and it was tough keeping my stuff dry on the boat, but my second year, I splurged and spent about $30 at REI for what's essentially a clear, plastic dry sack for my cell phone. It hangs around my neck by a sturdy cord. I put it underneath my PFD so it's not in the way. You can buy dry sacks of many sizes. When I kayak for the day, a larger dry sack can be tucked at my feet.

Paddling gloves: Some coaches frown upon their paddlers wearing gloves. I find it helps me have a firmer grip on my paddle. In the winter, I wear my heavy Glacier Gloves. The rest of the year, I wear lightweight half-finger Neoprene paddling gloves. I wash them often. After paddling, I hang my gloves immediately so they dry out.

* Waterproof wallet: Chum makes all manner of wallets for paddling. My everyday wallet has a removable inner wallet I pull out for paddling and stash in my PFD zippered pocket. It holds my driver's license, my debit card, my auto insurance card and health insurance card. It also opens in the center so I can tuck a little cash into it in case my team goes out for coffee or Second Breakfast after our Saturday morning paddle.

* Hat: I usually can't stand to wear a hat when I'm paddling because it gets in the way. However, when it's raining really hard, I wear my Australian outback Gore-Tex waterproof rain hat which has a chin strap so I can cinch it tighter and not lose it in the water.

Where to find paddling clothing: Goodwill and other thrift shops, but also REI and in Portland, the Next Adventure paddling store in Southeast. Tell them you're on a dragon boat team and you get a discount. A variety of websites offer online shopping for paddling gear. One of the best is DoubleFifth Dragon Boating.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Finding the rhythm—and courage—to beat my drum

My friend Henry invited friends to celebrate his 50th birthday by sharing a story in a format similar to The Moth. Each storyteller took a turn at the front of the room telling a story with the theme of "lost and found." Wearing my little black dress, my cowgirl boots, and my elk antler canoe paddle necklace, I beat a rhythm on my African djembe drum while I shared my story:

As a kid, I marched to the beat of a different drummer. But it was the 1960s. A girl could be a teacher, nurse, secretary, or if she were really adventurous, a flight attendant. I dreamed of adventure: traveling to Africa, flying a plane, and being a girl drummer. I created drums from household objects: Mom’s pots and pans, empty boxes, the living room radiator.

When we were six, my cousin, Dave and I formed a band, Sue and her Swingers. We didn’t have a clue what a swinger was, but we liked the alliteration. My drumsticks were Lincoln Logs, and my drum was an empty oatmeal box. But Dave, who was nicknamed “Hippy Dave” and wore cool, striped bell bottoms, played a real guitar that his mom gave him. Our repertoire consisted of “Lay Down Your Head, Tom Dooley” and “Down the Valley." We played living room gigs for our parents. Cool, huh?

I kept drumming, but still didn't have a real drum.

For my tenth birthday, for some inexplicable reason, I was sure my parents were giving me a drum set and a real chimpanzee. Imagine my disappointment when I opened my gifts and found neither chimpanzee nor drum set, but instead a tall, metal high chair for dolls. What the heck? It didn’t take me long to discover the doll high chair made a great drum! It was tall enough that I could stand up to play my drum solos! I played a lot of gigs on that doll high chair.

By sixth grade, kids could take band class and learn to play an instrument. My hands shook with excitement that first time I held real drumsticks and played a snare drum. Even the names of the drum rudiments were thrilling: flam, paradiddle, triple ratamacue.

Although my family couldn't afford to buy a new drum, the band teacher let students rent old marching band snare drums for $1 a month. Covering the large drum in a plastic garbage bag, I lugged the drum home on my bike every day after school so I could practice drumming.

That Christmas, Mom surprised me with a gently used silver snare drum. It was a beaut! I don’t recall where Mom found it or how she afforded it, but it remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

I was a drummer in the school band from sixth grade through high school. In our small school, being in the band meant playing in concert band, marching band in parades and pep band at all the football and basketball games. By then, drummer Karen Carpenter was a role model, and I was joined by two other girl drummers. I loved being a drummer! When a popular kid at school referred to me as "the little drummer girl," I beamed. 

But when I moved away to attend college, my drum gathered dust. Mom asked if she could sell it in her garage sell, and I agreed. When would I play a drum as an adult woman?

Shortly after college graduation, I got married and was busy raising a family. I loved being a mom and a wife. But as my kids grew into older teens and young adulthood and I had more breathing room, I realized that I’d lost myself. Although I found great joy in spending time with my kids, the adventurous girl I'd once been had been replaced by a shell of a person. I felt completely alone in my marriage. To cover up my grief and emptiness, I ate chocolate--lots of it--ballooning to almost twice my high school weight.

After counseling and mediation sessions, my husband and I eventually divorced.

More than thirty years had passed since I'd played a drum. Now 50 years old, did I remember how to play my own rhythm? Did my heart still have the capacity for joyful song? I didn't know the answers to these questions, but I was ready to find out.

I joined a women's dragon boat team, the Mighty Women. Paddling three times a week was therapeutic for my soul, and combined with mindful eating and other exercise, helped me trim almost 50 pounds from my 5-foot-2 frame.

It was while paddling on the water that I began breathing again. And smiling. My success in dragon boating spurred me to try other adventures: zip lining, kayaking, stand up paddleboard, snow shoeing, belly dancing.

With each new experience, my courage increased.

The next step was a doozy. Dipping my big toe into the online dating pool, the first few dates were duds. I did meet a couple of kind men who had some shared interests, and it was fun going to dinner or a movie, and nice having someone to talk with. But nothing really clicked.

Then I met a Mountain Man, a fellow adventurous spirit who is finding his way back to happiness and joy. Even more incredible, he was a drummer in high school too. He'd recently bought an African djembe drum at Rhythm Traders in Portland. We went to Rhythm Traders together, losing ourselves in more drums and percussion instruments than I'd ever seen, tapping out rhythms, laughing and finding joy in the moment. I was the only woman there. The only girl drummer. During our second trip to Rhythm Traders, I bought my own African djembe drum. It's a beaut!

Together, the Mountain Man and I have paddled skin-on-frame kayaks, camped in his tipi, hiked, explored museums. He's taught me western swing dancing, archery and alpine skiing. I'm editing his book and helping him publish and market it.

We've played music together under the summer stars and in the falling snow. Who knew life in my fifties could be so rich?

I've come a long way from the empty shell I was. Each morning, I step forward expectantly, anticipating whatever adventures might lie ahead. And sometimes, I strap on my drum, my hands tapping out a rhythm while my heart sings.

Kirby and I playing our African djembe drums in the garden.