Carving out the Dragon Boat head – Revealing the Inner Dragon!
We started carving our red cedar logs into dragon boat heads and tails today!
Todd Wong is shown the art of working with the grain of the wood by team mate and fellow co-coach and carver Bob Brinson. – photo Dave Samis.
I walked into the Roundhouse Community Centre at 3:30pm. And
there were bright lights and a tv camera crew, and the Abreast in a
Boat team furiously chipping away…
And I thought to myself… “Damn I missed a media opportunity.”
The CBC TV crew was filming for a pilot project about events in the
community. The producer/director is Moyra Rodgers who
produced/directed the CBC TV performance special “Gung Haggis Fat
I really like Moyra. She is one of those women whom you know
always has something going on in her head. She is president of
her own production company Out To See Productions, and she also
produced the CBC events for Vancouver Art Awards and the Bill Reid
Tribute Concert at the Chan Centre. Working with her on the Gung
Haggis Fat Choy television special was a great journey. From the
time we did “blue sky” idea brainstorming, to the meetings of fleshing
out concepts, to the filming of the musical performance segments for
the Paper Boys in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens and Silk Road Music on
Keefer St. in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Moyra is always easy to work
with. Even when she makes you unbuckle and buckle your kilts
repeatedly… for the camera! Okay… we did a segment showing me
dressing in Scottish dress as part of the origin of Toddish McWong and
Gung Haggis Fat Choy.
Moyra did lament that it was too bad CBC TV National Programming
Directors didn't go for the proposed expanded one hour “Gung Haggis Fat
Choy” performance special that would have embraced Chinese/Scottish
Cultural interactions from BC to Nova Scotia. “It feels like its not
finished yet,” said Moyra.
But enough about me and Moyra… what about the carving?
Hacking away at red cedar with only a wooden mallet and a chisel is
hard work. Chip, chip, chip and the pieces of wood fly
away. Your arm gets tired. And the log still looks the same 5
minutes later. I’ve never done this stuff before! It’s a
good thing Bob Brinson knows what he is doing – at least I think he
does. Bob taught me today about working with the grain of the
wood. We don’t want to be chipping and causing deep splits into
the wood. My girlfriend Deb was right into the chipping
too! She shared with us the story of how her family project was
making a cedar strip canoe, led by her father. My carpentry
skills are basically helping my sign writer father paint 4’x8’ plywood
sheets and driving 2’’x4’’ stakes into the ground with a sledge hammer
for sign post displays.
While Bob got to work taking a saw to the log, Deb helped me trace our
design pattern onto other sheets of paper, so I could create more
pictures of our design. One for the log, and one for the wall
display. I also drew up the front and top views, and drew the
front view directly onto the log, so Bob could tell where to start
carving, and where to leave.
The camera crew always seemed to pop in and out when you least expected
it. One moment, they were filming the Wong Way dragon boat team,
the next they were at the Abreast in a Boat table, then suddenly they
were watching us. It felt like being on a Reality TV show… I
joked to Moyra. But really! Something like X-treme dragon
boat carving. Each team is given 2 logs, a set of chisels and 5
days to create a dragon boat head and tail. No power tools can be
used. Ready, set, goal!
of a hard first day's work. Dave Samis, Todd Wong, Chip Frank,
Bob Brinson – all stand with instructor Eric Neighbor beside the former
cedar log now showing signs of the dragon it will son become.
Is there a prize? Well, maybe the satisfaction of a job well
done, and the chance to be part of something never done before, and be
filmed for television… But maybe the Alcan Dragon Boat festival
will arrange something. After we had finished for the evening, I
talked with one of the Wong Way members suggesting that the ADBF could
put up some prizes. Peter Wong, is currently the chair of the Canadian
International Dragon Boat Festival Society which governs the
ADBF. When I suggested that the public could be encouraged to
vote for their favorite carving, and have the chance to win a prize,
his eyes lit up when I said this would be a great media opportunity.
So… maybe something will yet happen.
At about 4pm, Dave Samis showed up to help us, very excited about his
new truck. Dave is actually a member of the GVRD dragon boat team
but ever since I first coached their team for 2003, he has joined the
Gung Haggis Fat Choy team to paddle with us in Seattle, Victoria, UBC
Day of the Longboats and the Ft. Langley Canoe Regatta. Dave
loves our team, and now he is loving the experience of wood
carving. At 5:20pm, I brought back pizza and drinks for our crew
and we took a little break. I tell Dave about the plan to make
the dragon’s horns resemble the pipes of a bagpipe. Somehow we
get on the idea of using hockey stick blades to create the dragon’s
spikes down his back. We will definitely have an OUTRAGEOUS
looking dragon head. Sort of a cross between Roger Rabbit, Puff
the Magic Dragon mixed together with Bob and Doug Mackenzie from SCTV.
Chip Frank showed up soon afterwards to join us around 5:45pm. I
quickly bring Chip up to speed by showing him our drawing plans taped
to the wall. He likes them. It turns out that Chip loves
working with wood, and immediately wished he had brought his tools with
him. Chip and I start squaring off the log destined to become our
tail. Chip shows me how to work with the grain, and starts
putting in saw marks for us to start chiseling into. He teaches
me to center the wood by finding the core, marking squares on each end,
and keeping our planes level as we chisel away… We make short work of
one side and the top. Another 1 ½ hours and it will be square,
and ready to start its transformational journey to become a tail
Throughout the evening’s process, we are constantly aware of what the
other team’s are doing or not doing. For instance, while the 3
other teams are clearing off their logs outer husks and making 2’’x4’’
wedges to fit into a dragon boat, we are working on our head piece and
giving it shape – ignoring the 2×4 fittings. We figure that if we
ignore the tail, at least we will have a great looking head
piece. We figure that if we ignore the fitting section, at least
we will have a great looking dragon face. 5 days is not that much
time to carve and paint a set of dragon head and tail for a dragon
boat. We can always work on the 2×4 fitting segments later.
But for now, with the tv cameras coming back, we’d rather have the best
looking dragon boat head around.
Dave took digital pictures of our evening, and he will send them to me asap to post on this website.