What do you get if you put together yoga mats, plastic fencing, election posters, old CDs, and, oh, two golf carts? Why, a dragon boat, of course!
The Verdun Dragon Boat Club won the hearts, admiration, and quite possibly, People’s Choice Awards (still to be confirmed), at Montreal’s annual St Patrick’s Day Parade, with an elaborate and painstakingly created replica of a dragon boat!
But back it down, as we say on the boat, and let’s take it from ‘Paddles Up!’…
Let us Set the Stage…
While discussing the upcoming summer competition schedule and ways of increasing visibility in the community, the Verdun exec team had a brainwave; why not take part in the largest St. Patrick’s day celebration across North America? That would be sure to turn a couple of heads (and potentially recruit us some new paddlers).
While originally it was to be a modest affair (a couple of festive balloons, some business cards, a paddle or three for kicks), a crazy idea emerged: why not instead of just talking about dragon boating, we demonstrated it in an actual boat?
This was just too crazy an idea to pass up, so a couple of brave souls accepted to take on the challenge.
And so the collection of random building materials began, because honestly; how does one even begin to build a portable dragon boat?!
Scene 1: The Build
On a chilly Sunday morning in February, a valiant group of paddlers-slash-imagineers (including power couple Beatriz and Emir and the formidable rightie-leftie team of Marian and Randy) reported for duty at Forewoman Tammy’s garage-turned-boat-building-studio. We surveyed our amassed assortment of repurposed silk curtains, wooden dowels, CD-ROMS, plastic netting, swimming noodles, election posters, and old yoga mats (shout out to Concordia University’s Centre for Creative Reuse (CUCCR) as well as Tammy’s artistic daughter, Dominique, for her insight and assistance).
Much calculating, painting, cutting, calculating, constructing, evaluating, and did I mention, calculating?, and hair drying painted sections led to ferocious dragon heads and tails being crafted. Side panels laid with meticulously measured and laid out reams of CD-ROMS doubled as scales (Tammy’s husband Matt, peeked in on occasion, but then wisely withdrew when he saw what was taking place…).
Five long hours later, something broadly resembling a dragon boat was starting to take shape!
After evaluating countless options (Plans C through F to balance looks with portability over 6 kilometers in unpredictable weather), we finally settled on Plan G. The final result boasted a dramatic dragon head and tail formed of painted yoga mats reinforced by corrugated election posters, and separated by a silk curtain body ornamented by scales and waves, connected by swimming noodles. Does Verdun know how to go green, or what?
The structure was bolstered by shoulder straps for those ‘paddling’ in the boat and was quite the impressive sight! Appropriately clothed in lab coats and making use of Tammy’s vast array of art supplies, from double-sided tape to super-glue and sparkly paint, the boat was beginning to come alive!
Scene 2: The Assembly
A follow-up meeting was dedicated to the IKEA-like assembly of the boat which had to be both portable and collapsible; no small feat! Many tweakings, run-throughs, evaluations, and endless supplies of tiebacks and humankind’s greatest invention, duct tape, later… and behold! We had ourselves a veritable, bonafide dragon boat!
Scene 3: The Reveal!
Donning our fashionable new blue Verdun hoodies celebrating fifteen years of athleticism in the community, boat engineers arrived on-site two hours early for assembly and our maiden voyage.
We were soon joined by curious onlookers (including Captain America himself!), who wondered how an assortment of (extremely random) materials would somehow assembly themselves into a 3D vessel on land.
And they were not disappointed as we swiftly stapled, glued, tied and strung everything together (All that was missing was the bubble gum and dental floss!)
Boat assembled, we then endeavored to steer our vessel, running through various scenarios of: Synchronized marching! Downhill navigation! Uphill navigation! And the one that struck fear in all of us; the dreaded left turn on McKay street…
Coach Sheri Cameron immediately shifted into steering mode, bellowing “Paddles up!” “Double time! “Bring up the pace, bring up the pace!”, “Easy does it, around the turn”, and finally, to our great relief, “Okay, back it down.”
After three hours of waiting and listening to a cacophony of bagpipes mixed with Jamaican reggae tunes, we were off! Running through some mock paddling drills, we collected our green balloons and lined up behind our impressive Verdun banner.
And the crowd went wild! Shamrock-bedecked kids with big eyes and open-mouths stared and giggled as we ‘paddled’ past. Sports enthusiasts let out loud and appreciative “Verduuuuun!” calls to encourage us on. And cheerful but slightly inebriated parade participants poked eachother and happily yelled, “Hey, it’s a boat!”
And what was perhaps our best response ever: “Four More Years!” from someone who recognized our sport and was hinting at Olympic stardom.
Heck, if we could put a dragon boat together from paper and string…who knows?