Lamma Ladies in Penang!

International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF)
6th Club Crew World Championships 2008, Penang, Malaysia.

The Arrival:

The first thing we notice when we get to our hotel on Wednesday evening is – Hey! It’s really nice!
The Lamma Ladies have traveled throughout Asia on several international events, though none so big or formal as the Club Crew World Championships (more than 20 countries represented). Evidently, the Penang tourist bureau wasn’t putting its low-rent hotels on the itinerary, so our median-range hotel looks rather swank to us village girls. Real blankets on the beds! Toilet paper in the bathroom! No cockroaches! Luxury!

That, so far, is the good news.

The Troubles:

The bad news is plentiful and overwhelming. Barely 10 days before the event, the Hong Kong teams (and the rest of the Asian teams) in the Premier Women’s League discovered that unlike in Asia, the North American, Australian, and (we assume) European Dragon Boat crews all use women steerspersons/helms in the “women’s event.”

Lest that sound obvious to the uninitiated, the nine Asian women’s teams have uniformly raced with men for helms throughout Asia, and have done so for many, many years. And although we all have been told throughout the years that these Asian races were "women's only" crews, the presence of a male helm did not nullify their standing as, well - you know - WOMEN. Even by the alleged IDBF rules we were all apparently following.

This would NOT be the case in Penang in 2008!  This was a helluva spoiler, discovered too late to tell our male helm, Frazer McGilvray, who had flown in especially from the *cough* USA to make it to the event.

No amount of cajoling or pleading, or polite or aggressive emails in advance, would move the IDBF or the Australian and North American teams on this matter (it came down to a vote between participating teams and we were outnumbered). This was a distinctly  "Asian problem,” since it was uniformly Asian teams that were in the dark over the regulations.

The options given to our teams were thus:
  • Use a male helm and accaept that your results don’t count;
  • Use a male helm and pay a USD $500 fine;
  • Use a female helm from another team whose race doesn’t conflict with your own, and who agrees to help you out (damn good of them, really);
  • Cause a big stink about it and be disqualified. Every single stinker among us.
** To be fair: that is what we were told the options were. The Lamma Ladies' flight was landing in Penang just as the managers’ meeting was commencing. We had proxy representation that informed us of the results. The stress headaches got worse from there.

In the long run: approximately nine teams had to replace their male helms for a small pool of unknown women. In summary, we were told we had to give our men their walking papers.

Rude side note: Asia – China and Hong Kong – may be the official heart of Dragon Boating, but apparently, the head is firmly running the show (and sadly, that head is buried in the crevice of another continent’s buttocks).

Frazer - Our lone Pink Man!

The Result of the Troubles:

Let it never be said the Lamma Ladies are not loyal! In a solidarity vote, the crew opted to have Frazer helm for our first event, the 2,000 meter race, and accept the fact that although we would be given a time, our results would not be officially recognized.

For the upcoming 200 and 500-meter races, we would accept an unknown female helm, and enter as full competitors, but for the 2,000-meter, we were absolutely going to go with the steersman who has helmed with us for many races these past 6 years!

So, for our first race, we pulled on our screaming pink crew shirts, and got our butts on the water.

Lamma Ladies Make Friends Everywhere

The First Race of the Weekend:

The 2,000-meter race, which incorporates a staggered start of 12 seconds between competitors, and three hairpin turns, is challenging in the best of conditions.

We did NOT have the best of conditions.

The winds over the reservoir were pushing countless crews off-course, driving them into each other, and generally providing a spectacle of carnage on the water. Frazer was looking a little green as we surveyed a race that took place just 30 minutes before we were scheduled to begin.

Conditions became so bad, that the organizers delayed proceedings for 30 minutes in hopes the situation would calm down. And it did, a little.

Twenty Premier Women’s teams were in the 2,000- meter competition. The Lamma Ladies were in boat number nine. We inched our way forward to the start line. Each boat was staggered by 12 seconds. Teams would chase each other around the course, and fight not to be overtaken.

We looked ahead at the start line. Boat seven was on its way. Boat eight waited to go – them, poof – they were off. Ten seconds later, our paddles were up and ready to go and – poof – we were off.

The crew was in excellent form, the timing was perfectly in unison, and the rating was calm and measured. It was a two-kilometer race after all: dashing off like maniacs wouldn’t work for anyone.

Of course, when one of the top three international women’s blew past us in a fine mist of water and a flash of red, we almost reconsidered.

Ladies apres race one...

But the crew held strong, and pushed out an excellent first attempt at a 2,000-meter race time. At 12:46, we had beaten our own practice records by nearly a minute. Moreover, Frazer steered the race magnificently, turning directly on the buoy lines and never missing an inch; taking to work the smoothest, most direct route possible.

Once out of the boat the crew was ecstatic. This was a new distance for us, and it was not quite the time we would have liked in comparison to the field (we were NOT in the top 10 for that race, unofficially or otherwise); but it felt good and the team felt strong.

End of the Day:

What followed was the team getting on the bus to head back to the lovely, roach-free hotel, while Claudia and Gina attended the evening’s team managers meeting. There they learned that the Canadian teams felt there was too much bumpy dirt under their marquis (and the complainant actually said the word “conspiracy” – as in “conspiracy of dirt”). Some Australians wanted more aggressive ID checks at the race stations to make sure – we gather – no secret “ringers” were being snuck into boats. We just asked for a woman helm to identify herself so we could beg her to help us on Friday. There were none available at that time.

And so, Day One was over. Three more race days to go, and a female helm to be found by 10am on Friday morning. Precisely 11 hours from this minute! (as written). We start at 8am. Four cups of coffee ought to get us going. That and a Power Bar or two.

Friday races: the 200-meter sprint! The target: Top 10, or puke our guts out trying!

xxx the
Lamma Ladies.

A little crew love

Miss Mel and company, after the race