In February of 2007, a new all-women's dragon boat team, A Shui Life, was established by two Deaf women in Portland. The founders carry a big passion for the dragon boat sport and wanted to use the activity to provide a vehicle for their vision of growth and unity among the Deaf and Hearing communities. The team spends five enjoyable months together connecting and preparing for an annual dragon boat race, which is a weekend-long event in June at the Portland Rose Festival.
A Shui Life is comprised of both Deaf and Hearing women who use sign language to communicate. To those who have not noticed, the team’s name shares the same acronym as American Sign Language, or ASL, to represent more of who we are. We have included the Chinese word "Shui" (water) in our name to pay homage to our sister city in Taiwan.
Female paddlers of all ages with signing ability are welcomed to join the team. Dragon boat knowledge and fitness are developed during practice; no prior experience is required to join A Shui Life. The women are taught proper rowing strokes, how to communicate rhythm to each other, how to stay focused, building of physical and mental endurance, understanding of race strategies, awareness of safety rules and general good sportsmanship. These dragon boating techniques help unite women of all backgrounds to form a special team bond, as well to have a fun and spirited workout!
Women sit anxiously on the wet, cold uncomfortable planks, hands gripping tightly to the wooden paddles, positioning themselves, looking across to the front. The waves begin to grow gently splashing upon the boat. As paddlers wait patiently for the final call, all women's eyes focus ahead on the raised arms of the leader.
Anticipation. Nervousness. Excitement.
The leader's arms drop, shouting “GO!” The team grunts as their paddles dive hard and deep, pulling back, jump-starting the dragon boat through the heavy current. The paddles stay in sync with the leader’s arms; crashing and slicing through the water, increasing speed as the dragon boat inches closer to the finish line.
A flag catcher climbs on top of the dragon's head, staying calm with intense focus. She clings with her feet to the head, putting her trust on the dragon to hold her. Maintaining balance, she lays outstretched past the head as her stomach holds her body up in the air above the racing water, reaching out for the flag. Paddlers screaming, grunting, aching, full of exhilaration as the paddles row in rhythm to beat other boats to the finish line.
For the flag. For the win. For the spirit.
To learn further details about Dragon Boating, you can check Wikipedia.