Sunday, November 27, 2011

How dragon boating changed my mind

Recently I happened upon an episode of a show on the Cooking Channel called Easy Chinese: San Francisco. The host was preparing seafood down on the pier, but in the segment I saw a woman was standing next to her wearing a jersey with the words "Diesel Fish" on it.
I didn't recognize the woman, but I recognized the jersey. Diesel Fish is a Bay Area-based dragon boat racing team. I didn't need the host's introduction (I was able to rewind the show to see the segment from the beginning) to tell me that; I knew it from the years I was on a dragon boat team here in Southern California, and we'd see Diesel Fish at tournaments (both when they'd come south and when we'd head north)

The sport of dragon boat racing is much bigger around San Francisco, and being of Chinese origin it's not surprising that it would be included in such a show. Also, I can say from my years of experience that dragon boaters enjoyed eating almost as much as racing (or perhaps at times even more), so selecting the team as ones who would appreciate the food was also apropos.

Even though I haven't actively participated in over five years, there's still a part of me that has allegiance to the sport. (As noted, I've emceed the local tournament's opening ceremonies.) There's something about being part of a sport that, when you mention its name, mostly draws blank stares, makes you a supporter of any publicity it can get.

It also makes you a defender of it.

There's one key thing that needs to be clarified about dragon boating: What we do is paddling; it is not rowing. The boat is akin to a canoe, not to sculls; those on the boat face forward and what we have in our hands is a paddle, not an oar. So if there's one pet peeve that those who engage in dragon boating all share, it's being called rowers.

The host did start off the segment by properly calling those on the team "paddlers" but not once but twice when she was interacting with the team she referred to them as "rowers" (or a "rowing" team). And no one on the team corrected her, but almost certainly that was merely being polite, and because she was feeding them they were willing to cut her slack; it is true that we'd be willing to overlook an unintentional slight when food is provided. (I have no doubt that whoever talked with the show's producer before the segment was shot had mentioned the paddling term but the budget must be so low that re-shooting for such a minor point, and one that has nothing to do with the focus of the show, would never be considered.)

However, for me, sitting in my living room with no food for me, I couldn't help but furrow my brow and think, It's not rowing.

It's not something over which I'd write an angry letter, but it certainly inspired this (as you can see).

You can take the boy out of padding, but you can't take the paddling out of the boy.


Here's the Diesel Fish blog about filming for the show.


  1. Hi Doug,

    My name is Joyce, and I'm the girl who cooked with Ching.

    Let me reassure you that I, and other Fishies who were at the shoot, corrected the Director, Producers and Ching OVER, AND OVER again re paddling (not rowing) but to no avail.

    She defaulted to rowing regardless and it annoyed the hell out of me too. DF was not part of the post production (gosh we were just volunteers) and while she could have corrected many of the V/Os in post, we did not have a say.

    As such, please don't assume we're ignorant pricks who didn't try. We did.

    Thanks for watching.


    1. I figured as much, Joyce. At no point did I think you were ignorant; I spent plenty of time around other teams at tournaments for years, and one thing was always clear: every one of them knows it's paddling.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Great segment Joyce! I wouldn't know the first thing about dragon boating but I really didnt see the point of this blog?? To me it's like calling a ship a boat or vice versa....


So, what do you think?