Monday, September 22, 2008

Look on the light side

Yesterday was a really long day, completely swallowed up by paddling: I was up at 7am to register for a 21K race from Stanley to Po Toi and back again, and the women’s race set off at 8.30. It was already too hot by that time and 21K is a hell of a long way by any standards (2 and a half hours of effort). I was steering my first distance race, which made me feel pretty nervous: it’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t mind taking responsibility at work (and I have to), but opting for it out of work is a different matter. It was, in any event, an object lesson in what can go wrong: having been right behind the leaders (our club’s main Hong Kong rivals) for much of the race and battling with a much more experienced women’s crew for second place, I made a mistake, we went in the wrong direction and I had to correct our course substantially to get back to the yellow buoy we were supposed to go around, which cost us three places. I was really gutted, but had to continue to project a positive outlook to the crew so that we didn’t lose out even further due to sheer demoralisation. The paddle back across the bay seemed to last for aeons and everyone was struggling, but we somehow kept going and the boats behind us couldn’t catch us.

Despite everything, I thought I steered a pretty good race: I kept the boat straight and managed to paddle a lot instead of just "poking" (sticking the steering blade in the water to change direction) all the time. I felt pretty upset immediately afterwards though: as steersperson it’s my responsibility to take the right course. Lesson learned – pay attention during the race briefing. And I was amazed by the magnanimity of my crew, who’d seen their hard-fought second place disappear due to my error. They were so nice to me about it that it was humbling.

Later on the club held a barbeque for everyone who raced and I spent a happy hour or two slaving over a hot grill looking after an excess of meat – the grace under pressure and camaraderie of my fellow barbeque operatives, not to mention the absurdity of trying to cook 100 sausages on a tiny grill, being much more enjoyable than standing dourly around with a can of beer talking about paddling. We had so many sausages that one of the barbeque chain gang, James, ended up going down to Deep Water Bay beach that evening, after we’d finished clearing up, and handing them out to the legions of Filipina helpers who gather there under the trees on their day off. I've already told him that next week there will be a rapidly growing crowd. Word will have got out that there are free sausages on a Sunday - it will be just like Life of Brian, except that they'll be worshipping sausages instead of a gourd.

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