Our team, "Rottekano" (Rotte Canoe/Kayak), consisted of members of Never Dry, the Rotterdam Canoe Club (RCC, our club neighbors), and Staatsbosbeheer (sort of like the Forest Service for the Netherlands). Anyone could sign up, as long as they had a team of at least 14 members. No prior experience necessary!
In preparation for our first race, Joost from RCC organized us into two rows, mimicking the seating in the boats. It's important to consider the weight distribution, both side to side and forward and backward. Once we were partnered up, we piled into the boat in an organized fashion - starting at the front row and continuing backwards. Everyone grabbed a paddle.
The races are organized by the Dutch Dragons, a dragon boating organization with boats and volunteers. Two volunteers helped with each boat - one in the front who beats a drum and calls out orders, and one in the back who steers. Before our first race, they gave us a crash course in technique and teamwork. The most important factor is that everyone paddles in synch. My initial thought was: "Great, that should be no problem for a bunch of canoeists and kayakers!" ... but boy was I wrong. When you have 18 people squished into a small boat, you can barely see past the person in front of you. So you paddle at their pace, but probably not exactly (maybe a bit slower or faster). This effect propagates down the boat, until all different frequencies and rhythms can be found. Another important factor is the start. Someone on shore counts down (something like, "Are you ready?! Set, Go!"), and on "Go!" everyone should make their first stroke. But is your first stroke the moment the paddle goes into the water? Is it the moment you pull the paddle? Or is it the moment the stroke is complete? You all need to have the same understanding and paddle technique.
We also learned a number of other useful tips like:
- Count loudly with the drums - it helps you keep time
- Your water-side hand holds the neck of the paddle
- Your water-side hand should touch the water on each stroke
- Don't pull the paddle past your hip - then you're only pulling water up and getting in the way of the person behind you.
- Don't stop paddling until the drummer tells you to! I was surprised to see many people in other boats stop paddling and coast towards the finish line.
With plenty of tips and a bit of practice, we were off. Our first competitors were from Outdoor Valley - the incumbent winners from last year (Never Dry came in second last year)! After a somewhat rocky start, we paddled hard and passed the finish line in 48.44 seconds, coming in 0.51 seconds after Outdoor Valley!
There was quite a bit of down time between races, so we hung around while the ther 14 teams did their first races. In the second heat we improved our time by 1 second. Actually, we improved our time in all 5 races!
The last race was after 17h. Many other racers and viewers had headed home - it was a long, hot, sunny day! But the finale (again!) came down to Rottekano and Outdoor Valley. We gave it our best shot, initially falling a bit behind Outdoor Valley, but shooting forward at the end, making it impossible to tell who had won (even for spectators!). The drummers instructed us to do one last celebratory paddle, which involved hitting the gunnels with our paddle, lifting the paddle in the air, hitting the gunnels, and taking a stroke (and repeat). And yelling!
Back on land we collected our things and waited for the race results. After a ceremonial introduction, both teams were called to the front for the announcement. The verdict: A TIE! TOO CLOSE TO CALL! I think everyone was secretly a little disappointed to not have won-won, but it was a nice friendly ending with lots of high fives and handshakes, and... there's always next year!
See below for a medley of photos taken by Marianne, Ivo, and myself. Click to enlarge.