Green Team Finds Success on Water

    Although many people on campus may be unaware of its existence, the UCSD dragon boat team is growing in size and enjoying success on the water.

    Hillary Elder/Guardian
    The 3-year-old dragon boat team has created a short but successful history with a first-place finish for the B team at its first race at Lake Merced in San Francisco.

    The team was started three years ago by senior Sasanna Yee, a current member of the UCSD team.

    “”Three years ago, it was just a few friends,”” Yee said. “”We only had enough people for one boat, about 20 people. Last year, we had enough people for two boats.””

    Dragon boat consists of a long boat with 18 to 20 paddlers, a drummer in the front to keep the beat and a steersman in the back. The team borrows its boats from a San Diego adult team, while each member has his or her own paddles.

    The team currently uses two boats to field two teams in races, but a third boat is available for use as well.

    “”We could have three possible boats with 60 people,”” Yee said. “”It’s pretty hard to recruit that many people, though.””

    Even though there are not enough members to fill three boats yet, the team is growing each year, as dragon boat itself is emerging as a sport at colleges in California.

    “”A lot of my friends started teams at the colleges they went to, like UC Irvine, UCLA and [UC] Berkeley,”” UCSD dragon boat president Bailey Zhao said.

    Zhao and Yee both graduated from Lowell High School in San Francisco, a hotbed for high school dragon boaters. “”[Dragon boat] is so big in the [San Francisco] Bay area,”” Yee said. “”The high schools are more competitive than the college or adult teams.””

    Being a new team playing a relatively unknown sport can be tough, and the team has its share of struggles.

    “”The hard thing about college is a lot of people don’t have experience,”” Zhao said. “”There are a lot of new people that we have to teach technique to, and most people take a while to learn. Some people get it really fast though.””

    Another problem that the team faces is lack of commitment, according to Zhao. The team generally practices twice a week with more practices in the weeks leading up to a race and fewer during the winter.

    “”In college, students care more about school than the actual sport,”” he said. “”The hard part is getting people to come out for practice.””

    The team practices last about two hours at Fiesta Island in Mission Bay, and focuses on perfecting basic form and technique. The team also works on endurance to build strength for its races. In the weeks leading up to the races, the team practices sprints as well.

    Races are usually 500-meter sprints that take less than three minutes to finish. Most of the races take place in the [San Francisco] Bay area, and about four boats race at a time.

    The UCSD team had its first race of the season against 11 other teams at Lake Merced in San Francisco on Nov. 11. The A team took second place in the A division while the B team took first place in the C division. UCSD’s A team finished less than one second behind Suen Feng Loong, a team not affiliated with any college, and less than one second ahead of UC Davis. Overall, it was a tight race, with last year’s winners, UC Berkeley, coming in fourth.

    “”We’re really proud of our team,”” Zhao said. “”Our B team beat all the other teams in their division. We came in the underdogs — not seeded very high — but we pulled out some upsets.””

    Even though the sport is relatively new to UCSD and other nearby colleges, dragon boat has a long history. The sport originated in China about 2,500 years ago and has now spread around the world.

    “”It’s a really big sport,”” junior rower Kevin Kwan said. “”It’s second to soccer in the world.””

    Kwan and other members are also interested in making dragon boat a more prominent sport at colleges in general.

    “”We’re trying to set up a college league, but that’s a little far off in the future,”” Kwan said.

    Right now, the team is focused on increasing the number of members on the squad and members plan to continue their recruiting into the winter. Although prior experience is helpful, Yee insists that it is by no means a requirement to join the team.

    “”If you want to do [dragon boat], you don’t need experience,”” she said. “”We train new people — you just need a good attitude. It’s team-oriented more than any sport I’ve tried.””

    Zhao had tried different sports in high school before settling on dragon boat. The importance of teamwork in the sport is one reason he was drawn in by it.

    “”You’re only as strong as your weakest link,”” he said. “”The team with the best teamwork and timing wins races.””

    The dragon boaters won’t race again until May 2007, but the team is ready to be recognized as a top-tier team.

    “”Last year, we weren’t expecting too much, but we held our own against the good teams,”” Zhao said. “”This year, we have a lot more experience. We are a top-seeded team now and we expect to win.””

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