A Visit to Seabird – May 25, 2019
Dave, Mike, Francis, Anya, and Harry spent some time at the Seabird Band’s annual Festival, in the Upper Fraser Valley. This year was the 50th. There were visitors from nearby elsewhere: Chilliwack, Nooksack, Lummi, Vancouver, and Vancouver Island. All were here to enjoy the barbecued salmon and bannock, hot dogs, smokies. cotton candy and ice cream – but being a wet and chilly, it was a bad day for ice cream.
The parking was full, the streets crowded with people, the fields busy with baseball and soccer, and along the road along the slough, people dashing paddle in hand this way and that, and ubiquitous canoes. Canoes on cars, on the ground, in the water, on the banks, canoes on their way somewhere with their owners, light ones perched on fingertips and long, long ones, heave-hoed atop two dozen shoulders. The shore was lined with sundry shelters and family canopies, and for us, a soggy deck chair and some sorry umbrellas.
There were some exciting races. The youngest paddlers seemed a little unsure of themselves as parents cheered them on. The older paddlers were disciplined and professional. There were a few close finishes and upsets. One canoe capsized and caused a pile up of boats behind them.
I watched the racers in their boats. They sat bottom on bottom, feet to the bulkhead, holding bent shafts mostly, but a few with traditional paddles. I saw cross draws, sculling draws, diagonal draws, bow jams, and sometimes in the stern, a ruddering low brace – but there was not a sweep or a j-stroke in sight.
To go straight, everyone switched sides every four to six strokes. Tandem teams did this sometimes in unison, and sometimes one stroke apart. What was their system? And counter-intuitively, most teams paddled not on opposite sides, but the same side. Why? – and if for good reason, why most but not all teams?
I spoke to a bystander who seemed to know. Paddlers start training soon after they are toddlers, they train every day, and paddle as teams for years. Some steer from the front and some from the back, some teams on the same side, some opposite – whatever they are comfortable with – or what they have comfortably adopted after years of personal training and team development.
I looked at the team crests and logos all around me, the band names and place names on the boats, dozens on dozens of families, hundreds of people in every shape and size. I realized that while I may think I know canoeing, there is a whole different world of canoeing right here, and I still have whole worlds to explore.