Sunday, November 30, 2008

Round Island Race - November 23rd

I still can't believe I paddled around Hong Kong Island last Sunday in an outrigger canoe! It was such an experience. I'd been training for the whole month hoping to make it. Ten of us from Lamma OCC formed the women's racing team for the day and I was lucky enough to make the cut and get to be in the boat. It was such a great time and I’m still high as a kite thinking about it.

The day before the race, we'd paddled the two canoes over to Middle Island where the race would start. It was our last training run and also our last chance to practice sea changes and rip up my legs some more. In this event, ten people paddle around Hong Kong Island, but the boat only holds six at a time. So, every 3, 7 or 8 kilometers there is a sea change.

How it works is that the support boat draws alongside the canoe and someone shouts out the number of the seats of the people who are changing. Then the boat powers ahead and slows down so that the paddlers can get in the water about 100 metres in front of the canoe. We line up in the water and put our hands up so that the steerswoman can see us. She steers so that the ama (the outrigger part) and the canoe straddle us. As they paddle at us at full power, we grab on with one hand and either lift, sling or heave ourselves into the canoe with varying levels of speed and grace. Meanwhile, as soon as we, the new paddlers, grab onto the canoe with one hand, the people in their seats dump out the other side. All people still in the canoe paddle like crazy trying to maintain momentum until everyone gets settled and can join in. It’s a little stressful because if you miss the grab or don’t get in smoothly it really slows the boat down. It’s also painful because the only way I can do it is to throw one leg in and lever it under the seat and get in that way. So for the past month, I’ve had huge abrasions and bruises on the back of my right knee. You can see what they look like and more on this YouTube video: On the first change, I get in the boat at seat 4 (counting from the front.)

The actual race started at 9:00, but we left Lamma at a quarter to seven to ride over to the starting line. I was about as nervous as before a running race, but in a different way. When I was going to run a marathon, if I screwed up or wimped out, I’d be the only person I let down. When you have lots of teammates, it’s worries about letting them down that filled my mind. What if I got too tired? What if I mess up the sea change? What if my timing is off? What if they wish that they hadn’t let me in the boat? I wasn’t in the boat for the start, so I had hours to wait around nervous.
But finally my chance came. My first leg was pretty short, only 3 ½ km. The sea change went really fast, so it was great for getting the butterflies out. I got out just before we turned the corner to go through the harbour. That began a couple of really long legs for the paddlers because it’s much too dangerous to do sea changes in the middle of Victoria Harbour – one of the busiest harbours in the world. Some people might think that it’s pretty dangerous just to be in an outrigger canoe in that harbour.

As it turns out, they’re not far wrong. We were traveling along pretty close to the outrigger when we looked behind and one of the huge Macao hydrofoil ferries was bearing down full power at the girls. It is unbelievable how big it was and how fast it was coming. Gina’s steering had already been awesome dealing with all the chop and wakes coming her way, but when she saw that ferry coming, she was amazing. You can see in the pictures how much strength she was putting into getting that boat out of the way. The other girls never looked up. They had their eyes in the boat like they were supposed to and kept that power up. If they had stopped paddling, there’s no way Gina would’ve had the momentum to get them out of the way. Everyone in the junk was totally freaking out. But Gina and the other girls in the outrigger were masterful.
Two more ferries came pretty close to the canoe, but one slowed down a lot and the other stayed on the opposite side of the junk from the canoe. At Causeway Bay, I got back in the boat, but it wasn’t a sea change. Getting in the water there is too dangerous, not because of boats, but just because of the filth in the water, so the support junk and the outrigger pull into a little bywater and we just stepped from the junk to the outrigger.
I paddled in that leg for 11 km. (I'm in seat 4 with the black cap on.) We went along the north side of HK and past the Museum of Coastal Defense – I could even see the battlements on the hills. After we turned the corner to go south the wind picked up a little and the chop a lot. I got out for 3 ½ km and then I was back in for my last leg of the trip. It was from Ng Fan Chau Island until the last change at Cheung Hom Kok Point. – 10 ½ km. That side of the island is so beautiful. It was sunny and the spray and the chop were beautiful. It was really tiring of course, but when it came time for the last change, I so didn’t want to get out of the boat. It was the end of my race, and the others were going to bring it home. Claire, Anna and I dumped out of the boat and cheered and screamed them on as they hopped in and took off. Then the woman from the junk threw us a life ring and hauled us back to the boat.The boat was going so well as they finished. They looked so strong, like they’d only been paddling 5 or 10 km instead of 43. There was no slowing down as they powered in to the finish line. The Lamma women’s OCC crew did the 46 km race in 4.49.32!!All of the Lamma OCC team and supporters were so high after that race and for days afterwards. We keep posting more about the race on facebook and talking about it on the ferry. Everyone did so well and worked together so well. The food at the barbecue afterwards was well-deserved, and the beer too.

Training for RIR

I haven’t been doing much other than paddling for the month of November. I’ve put off blogging, drinking, e-mailing, going out, running, reading or writing for four weeks of hard training. I just started doing outrigger canoeing in October and have spent many long hours training, hoping to make the team for the Round Island Race that happened yesterday, the 23rd of November.We’ve paddled around Lamma Island (24 km) three times, done sprint sessions, technique sessions, huli drills (flipping and righting the canoe), sea change practices, and so much more.
I’d never paddled before, so there was so much to think about and so much that they told me to focus on.

I can’t count the number of times I heard:
1. Rotate your body.
2. Reach two inches further.
3. Transfer your weight from your ass to your paddle.
4. Power in the water.
5. Snappy return.
6. Pause at the front.
7. Clean exits.
8. Paddles in and out together.
9. Bend from the waist.
10. Use your legs.
11. Timing!!
Each Saturday and Sunday morning I spent 2+ hours out paddling, starting usually at 8 a.m. The way to the beach is beautiful on a weekend morning. People are getting their fresh meat from the butchers. Shopkeepers are arranging their vegetables. Old ladies and men are squatting on the edges of the sidewalk with fresh greens or cut flowers to sell. The tourists are starting to choose the steamed boxes of dim sum. I ride the bike through the waking-up village, then continue on past banana plants and vegetable plots out to the beach by the power station.

Plus, there were the Tuesday and Thursday night sessions of paddling at night across the warm water. We were chasing moon paths across the water, dancing ferry lights and avoiding the black silhouettes of fishing boats coming too close.
Not many people get to be out around the corner of the island in the chop and wind where the big tankers sail off to parts unknown. I feel so lucky to get to go out there. When Gina or Mel takes us close to the rocks and we whoosh down the waves through the foam, I try not to wiggle from excitement. My paddling team thinks I never stop smiling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud to be an American


The little kids of eight, nine and ten ran through the hallways of our school here in Hong Kong screaming and yelling when they heard that John McCain conceded. These Hong Kong kids (many with Canadian passports) are overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.

They said Obama won, but I couldn't believe it. I ran into my room to check the internet and when I saw, I rushed out into the hall looking for someone to hug. A fourth grade girl from another class ran up to me and said, "Obama won, give me a hug!" I swept her up and spun her around. My son was with a group of seventh and eighth graders in the cafeteria, so I could only tell him. He nodded and smiled, but the girl next to him screamed leapt to her feet.

I can't believe it and I can't stop crying with the joy of hope for my country.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Junk parties

Hong Kong has its own partying solution to too small apartments and crowded bars - the junk party! Imagine a party where you know exactly how much you will spend. Throw in unlimited food and drinks. Figure in only hearing the music you want to hear and only partying with the people you want around. Then count on the most spectacular views of Hong Kong harbor and a light show as well. Well, that's a junk boat party!Last Saturday night I had a junk party for my birthday. Now, it was not my birthday. I actually turned 40 two months ago, but I spent that day mainly alone. Most of the people I know weren't back in Hong Kong and even the kids arrived jet-lagged at eight at night. But I have the sweetest friends! Despite the belated timing and all kind of hassle booking the junk, Catherine arranged for me to have an awesome 40th birthday party!

Twenty-four people came. The theme was 1968, of course. We had Vietnam war protesters and Viet Cong soldiers show up and lots of very short skirts. Even Andy Warhol was there - pretty amazing considering he was newly shot on the day of my birth. I agonized over my clothes, knowing that they were slightly more 1970 than 1968. Nevertheless it worked out all right, mainly because most of the party-goers weren't really up on fashion in the 60's or 70's since they weren't born.

A junk party goes from 7 until 11:30, then we were sent on our way with lots of drinks "to go." (A plus of Hong Kong is that you can walk down the street drinking.) Quite of few of my friends danced until 3, but I had to catch the 12:30 ferry home to Lamma or stay out. I decided that I better not abandon the children, and went home on time. It was a great way to turn 40!