I can't even remember what time I woke up, but it was definitely before 6:15am (when we were supposed to report to the race site) and definitely still dark out. Somehow, I made it out of bed, grabbed my stuff, hopped in a teammate's car, and napped the entire way from San Francisco to the race site in Alameda.

Before I continue, let me introduce myself -- I'm Julie, and I've just finished my sixth week in Ripple. I started paddling dragon boat at the start of this summer, and Sprints in Alameda was my first race. It's been a blast paddling with the Ripple family, and I had such a fantastic experience at Sprints!

After we set up the tents, made a delicious breakfast of bagel and baguette sandwiches, and ate, races started bright and early at 8am. The CDBA had shifted everything an hour up, because the previous year the conditions in the afternoon were so rough that some races had to be canceled. Thankfully, that didn't happen this year -- though the waves and wind could certainly be difficult to paddle through.

Up first was Furious. I sat out during this first heat, but I could definitely feel the tension in the air as I watched Furious, and then Fast a few heats after. When it was my turn to step in during Furious's semifinals, I came to realize just how different racing was from practice. It wasn't just that the water in Alameda was choppier; the whole vibe felt different. Our boat was decorated with dragon heads, our drummer had an actual drum, there were several boats on either side of us -- all against backdrop of a giant freight ship, which along with our tents sandwiched us into the bay.

Despite this all, I tried my best to focus in. When the horn started, I looked only at the paddler in front me, and we ended up doing well enough to advance to the finals.

After Fast and Furious's semifinals were the gendered races. Even though the women never had a chance to practice together as a crew, I felt that we truly paddled as one during that heat. It definitely helped that Amihan gave a rousing speech before our race -- which was only trumped by another one during our finals, which I'll describe later.

Finally, we all had a break to get some lunch. After a long morning of setting up and racing, spam musubi never tasted so delicious. It wasn't long before we were back to the water though, with a sudden change from original plans. Because the race organizers feared that the water, which was already quite rough, would get too turbulent to paddle in as the day went on, they reshuffled the schedule so that mixed finals would come before gendered finals -- since most clubs are more invested in mixed races than gendered races.

Furious did well, and Fast did really well, placing second. The race organizers didn't deem the current too rough to paddle through, so we continued the day with our gendered finals. Now, here's the moment you all have been waiting for:

Right before we stepped onto the dock to begin the women's final, Amihan -- fresh off a heated race in the open finals -- spoke passionately to us about what it means to be a woman in dragon boat. To really feel the power of her words, you had to be there, but to roughly and poorly paraphrase: While men have the muscle mass to excel in sports, as women we have something more valuable -- determination. Our bodies are built to endure childbirth, the toughest pain there is, so we truly have what it takes to paddle our way through any obstacle.

Her speech was damn beautiful, and it worked. We Ripple ladies, summoning up our powerful feminine energy, paddled to a first place finish, making Ripple history. Never before has a crew composed entirely of Ripple women placed first! It was a great way to end the day.

Thanks so much to everyone in Ripple for making my first race such a wonderful experience. Can't wait for what the rest of the summer brings!