Past Summers…
December 20, 2010, 2:05 pm
Filed under: About Town

This summer is different.

The days will pass by without major plans- I have no road trips, no adventures lined up. My board is broken, and I shall have the time to fix it. There are no dance classes, no canoe polo tournaments I have to save up for.

This freedom is different. It tastes like espresso mornings and has a blue sadness to it.

Sometimes I remind myself of why I made the decisions and choices, other times I prefer to wallow in nostalgia and think of the past as something better, more exciting and more worthy. I realise I am not chasing dreams anymore, and that even so, I am not dead for a lack of them.

I will learn to dance. I will patch up the board. I will load up the mountain bike and I will wander into the gym. At night, I will crawl between my own sheets. I will stay overnight with friends and camp at local beaches. I look forward to random spurts of boredom and excitement. I look forward to feeling a sense of peace. That race is over now. Summer is simply an opportunity to reflect, to prepare for the winter. To soak in the salt of the sea and just be.


Just a Referee
September 18, 2010, 9:36 am
Filed under: Canoe Polo, Refereeing

It must be about 17 years since I became involved with canoe polo. I remember my first night at the pool in a little town out of Palmerston North- Fielding. The guru of NZ Canoe Polo, Troy Lipsham, was going over the principles of the rules and about what we could or couldn’t do. My mate, Cheryl, was less than impressed.

“Can’t we just get on and do this already?” she muttered. Meanwhile, Troy was delivering four ideas that would forever influence my understanding of those rules.

Fairness. Spectacle. Definition. Safety. When you think about it, the rules are designed to promote those four ideals, and ever since then, I’ve evaluated rule changes and the way I referee using those principles. Why am I bothering to recount my early experiences? As I began my canoe polo career with a chat about the rules, I had a whistle in my mouth from the very beginning. I’ve been refereeing now, for longer than I played. I watched the game for months before I ever tried it, and now that I’ve retired, I’m refereeing still.

That commitment eventually resulted in an invitation to referee at the World Championships in Milan this year. Convinced that my C Grade rating would result in a line judge position, I was pleasantly surprised to get a number of games to referee, some of which were fairly heated. In one exchange my colleague and I delivered no less than 11 cards between the two teams. That’s a card every two minutes or less, and the game is only 20 minutes long. In another game, ¬†gave my first ever red card to a coach who screamed obscenities at me rather than directions at his team. He kept screaming, while I wondered exactly how long it would take before I had to call security or end the game out of a sheer inability to do my job. (He walked when I turned away to talk to the score bench. Lesson learned- deliver the card, then walk away!)

Refereeing at the World Championships was a huge privilege and a massive learning curve. What I stand by, in spite of language difficulties and translations and different ideas about the game between countries and continents, is that every referee should be committed to refereeing the rules as they are written, regardless of the level of the players. In fact, it is my belief that beginners need a strict introduction to the rules just as I was given. In particular, elite level players should be introduced to changes in the rules as soon as possible, and no dissent or misbehaviour on the pitch should be tolerated.

When I first refereed at the Worlds, I realised that it was easier than in NZ because I didn’t have people waving rule books in my face and going over each rule with a fine tooth comb. By the end of my refereeing there, the lack of knowledge about the rules was the most frustrating and exhausting element. I’d been abused by older more experienced referees who hadn’t known what rule I was calling or by fans who had never seen refereeing according to the actual rules. In Lerici, where I refereed before the Worlds, I was accused of refereeing against the German team in spite of their deliberate attacks on players taking free shots or throws, and in spite of being able to show every call made in the rule book. Members of the Lerici club and the audience wouldn’t look at me or talk to me at all. I wasn’t invited to referee later in the tournament, even though the other referees were patently and blatantly unaware of the actual rules. It became obvious that referees in Europe had been coasting, with only a handful having the guts to take on the abuse and shock of the majority and referee the game in the way it is intended to evolve.

What also became obvious is that many players and fans are ignorant of female referees. None was more ignorant, however, than me. When I list off abuse from people in Lerici, I failed to mention that some of those calls were made by my male compatriot- but people who challenged the calls asked me why I made them. A perceived mistake was my mistake alone. This wasn’t a conscious effort on their part- it is what people actually believed. I was wrong, my calls were wrong, I was ‘learning’ the rules. This attitude was even more blatantly obvious at the Worlds. While I’m willing to learn, and willing to improve, it took a while for me to realise that the adaptation was painful for some of the male referees. They’d never had to face that level of inspection, by the looks of it. I’d assumed my attitude was simply the result of being a referee, but as I look at it, I realise I’d only ever seen it from my own perspective.

My perspective: I’m a referee.

The world’s perspective: I’m a female referee.

I’m not bitter or twisted about any of this. These observations, in general, make me a better referee, but then that again is my perspective. I attempt to use objective methods for assessing my performance and I reflect constantly on my calls and interpretations. What potentially could bother me is those attitudes towards women in refereeing influencing the progression of females in refereeing. Where the attitudes remain unchallenged, a lack of objectivity remains, and there is no way of removing that lack of objectivity unless a person in power can provide incentive to do so.

When I was told a percentage of referees had to be female, I was surprised. To my mind, a referee is just a referee. I do believe now, however, that women can make better referees- not because men are not good referees, but because expectations are higher. What I want, however, is for those attitudes and expectations to also temper my male colleagues. Let’s face it, when we stand on the side, we are only on the sidelines. Male or female, we are still just a referee. At the end of the day, the athletes have to win the game, and we have to mediate. What I hope the world will realise is that we don’t need to be of a specific gender in order to officiate.

OMG- I went to a Body Jam Filming!
August 3, 2010, 9:44 pm
Filed under: Dance, Gym

Ages ago, I took up kayaking because sitting down was easier than running. Running was difficult for two reasons- it was boring, and I kept spraining my damned ankles! Imagine my delight then, when getting to Body Jam classes meant I actually learned some kind of dance move, without killing myself or anyone else with my highly developed klutz moves.

Skip forward a year or so, and imagine my delight at actually remembering choreography! I was so stoked at this development, I decided to brave a Les Mills filming for Body Jam. I admit, this was not an easy decision- so I made it knowing full well my Jam buddy would be going along with me.

A Jam Buddy is someone you meet at Jam who talks back when you make some quip and manages to head the same direction as you, or at least not panic when you head in the complete wrong direction. My bud, who shall remain nameless because nobody knows I blog about Body Jam, is a classy chick who can anticipate a Body Jam class even after a few glasses of wine. I know this, because before the filming, she was on her second glass of wine. This second glass of wine, unfortunately, was her undoing… So I made it to filming, and she forgot her Jam shoes and ended up mooching at home with a headache. Rats. Foiled again! However, this time I didn’t chicken out and hung out in the front right corner with the gang- glow sticks ready and amped for the house track!

The latest Body Jam release is number 55. You should be impressed that I know this number, because it is the first Jam release I have ever known the number of. The rest of them have blurred into happy memories of techtronic and some hip hop approximations. ( I should mention, the approximation is on my part. Damned if I can get my butt to go the way it should and still look chilled about it. ) Anyway, the release is memorable for me because I really enjoy the warm up track, and there are two recovery tracks- the second one being my favourite. I also SERIOUSLY love the house moves at the end of the class, although I think it will take me another year or so to even consider doing some of the advanced choreography suggested.

I should mention that I am not a Jam guru, and that I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the release, so I’m not going to go into too much detail, other than to say that Sarah Robinson, Ginny Crocker (NZ) and Josh Keenum (Atlanta) were presenting with the program director/choreographer, Gandalf Archer. They wore the latest LM clothing designs, and the filming was so slick it was just like being in any other Jam class, with the exception of my manoeuvres around the camera crew, who apparently were right behind me filming the Nike swish on my Blasters. God knows how they weren’t crushed with my lack of coordination!

There’s a really cool Latin track that is, now, significantly easier to do than G’s original choreography. Let’s just say G can really dance, and is a dangerous man on the dance floor! I don’t envy whoever it is that has to reign him in. Back to the Latin- I really enjoyed the way this Latin track seemed to be an evolution of Latin music, rather than being some cheesy rendition like certain other dance programs that shall remain nameless (because they suck, chiefly, and don’t deserve the free advertising.)

The warm down is particularly feminine and reminds me of the handful of Burlesque lessons I took, before I was seduced by G’s house hop class and spent my evenings sweating myself into a pulp while my ears bled bass.

All in all, my first experience of a Jam filming was pretty low key. Sure, there were a few international instructors there, but actually I think we get more crazy when we first work on a new choreography. The excitement of new music and the novelty of new moves is what inspires me nowadays. G himself asked if we weren’t tired of the choreography- attending class after class to ensure we remembered it while they trained the team to work together is certainly a repetitive process, and G is a dancer who revels in exploring new ideas and messing with old moves.

Hence, I have to say, that if you haven’t attended a Jam filming before, you should definitely do so, just to see what it’s like amidst all the hype. Really, though, it doesn’t compare to dancing with your mates hard core on an average Jam night, or heading up the hill to G’s House Class and realising your body can push itself harder than you ever thought.

Jam Filming: 6 out of 10

Learning to move with an insanely talented dance guru on a regular basis: 10/10

Body Jam: A review
December 23, 2009, 10:19 am
Filed under: Sports

I remember years ago, when I thought I was a real athlete. Actually, I probably was a real athlete. I did about 20 hours of training a week, on average, while holding down a job and studying. 12.5 percent body fat. Fit. Athletic. In a national team.

Times changed, I moved on, ended up hating weights because of my shoulder injury, and became bored with going through endless sessions in smelly, bland environments with little success or results. After shopping around a while, I decided to check out Les Mills.

Let’s cut a long story short. I attend Body Jam. Body Jam is a class based on hip hop that mixes different dance styles like salsa and jazz into an exercise routine. Its lead choreographer is a character called Gandalf, a goateed, personable, rhythm maestro with a penchant for glamorous hats, and shoes that are so cool they should probably be illegal. He has a band of instructors who somehow manage to make exercise continue to seem fun even if you’re wishing like hell the music would stop, so you could curl up in a ball beside the water cooler and die.

I often look around the class and wonder how such a diverse range of people ended up in the same place, trying to keep up with moves that are added, one on one, gradually building into an actual dance routine. I’m old. Many of the people in there with me are older. How do the instructors tolerate this? Actually, I recall now that Gandalf has called me out a few times for looking like something out of Richard Simmons.

Regardless, I keep going back to the gym because I enjoy the spectacle and the music. Over time, I’ve managed to figure out a few moves and had some help from instructors if I’m totally screwing it up. I still don’t have the body I want or the fitness I’d like to recover, but I now have a sense of humour and a developing sense of coordination that I would not have thought possible.

Body Jam is not my exercise solution to the damage I’ve done to myself over the years, but it’s certainly an improvement on my previous gym experiences. This is exercise wrapped up in entertainment, and I’m hooked. There’s something about Body Jam that works, and I have a feeling that it’s that unrequitted dream of wanting to be the cool kid, when you never had the moves or the confidence to be that person.

How good is a routine that makes you work without thinking that you’re exercising?

Surf Mags and the unenviable decision of whether to read them
December 19, 2009, 11:12 am
Filed under: Surfing

A while back I decided that I would take up surfing. Notwithstanding the fact that I am uncoordinated on two feet, and hate the thought of drowning in the ocean, I had decided it was one way to do sport in water without ending up with outrageous tan lines. Superficial, I know.

I sold my canoe polo kayak, kept the paddles and all other gear (because let’s face it, I’ll probably end up playing again) and bought a surfboard. It’s a 7’6 mini mal, with a snub nose, a few patch repairs and a history with this colourful character Martin, out at the Muriwai Surf School. I should mention I had lessons with Martin because I have since forced all of my friends to have lessons there- not because I am a sterling example of the results of his expertise, but because I have enough trouble myself without being responsible for other people.

Every time I finish a lesson with Martin, or one of my friends finishes a lesson with Martin, he hands out a surf magazine. I get Curls, my friends get some other thing, usually with a DVD on it. I never get around to watching the movie and I always forget to read the magazine. If I ever do get to read it, I feel disappointed.

Everyone’s bitching about something or other- not enough money, complaints about sexism, the whole competition factor and exotic locations. I don’t see surfing like that, and in fact I don’t see it even as a decent image factor anymore. Once I step on the board and manage to get on a wave, white wash or otherwise, I’m so stoked with the result I have to get out there again.

I don’t feel that way about reading about surfing. I start to notice editing errors, I get annoyed with the political notions, I feel frustrated with the injustice of life in general, and I can’t for the life of me even fathom trying to pull off some trick by reading a column and memorising it. Hell, I’m not even out the back yet.

I suppose I should actually write something for them and see if they would publish it. I know as a beginner, all I want is to know what I’m doing and whether that’s going to set me up, or set me back. How many times did I do something stupid when I was learning? What board should I get? What’s a good surf lesson? That sort of thing.

I think there might be a niche for a magazine or writing that isn’t into hype or personality, or into backbiting and getting into the nitty gritty that isn’t surfing. That niche probably consists of one person- me. But if you find a mag that’s about surfing, and worth reading- doesn’t denigrate women, humour not at someone’s expense, lacking the pastiche cliches and formulaic posturing- let me know. I’ll be interested. Meanwhile, I’ll be checking out the swells and seeing if there’s anyone who wants to go with…

Head Case or Head Referee?
April 20, 2009, 1:09 pm
Filed under: Canoe Polo, Sports, Whistle Witch

Contempt. Respect. Controversy. Being a referee invites ALL of it.
Abusive comments from spectators, dissent from players, criticism from coaches and managers. Accolades. Brickbats. Bouquets.

Anyone who has stood on the side of the pool with a whistle has had to, at some stage, combat the powerful demotivating influence of contemptuous behaviour. It isn’t why we stand on the side of the pool, even if we do receive recognition sometimes for our efforts. It is, after all, the athletes’ performance that is of primary importance. So why do it? Why do we put ourselves forward to manage the whole process?

Personally, I believed that improving refereeing standards and conditions led to better game performance and improved entertainment for spectators. I felt that we contributed to excellence and were rewarded financially in a game fee set by the NZCPA, and by the continued presence of our national teams in the top ranks at World Championships. I felt that, indirectly, refereeing had a positive impact on top players. If done properly, it prepared them for overseas conditions and situations.

The NZCPA now cannot afford to fund referees. That’s unfortunate, because while there are now more referees, there is also more pressure to perform. Standards of decision making have improved with a professional focus on performance. Expectations have increased. Refereeing seemed to be valued.

This past weekend I dealt with a range of people in my position as a head referee. I felt that a well managed refereeing and duty bench at a tournament made the games run smoothly. Players got to enjoy the results of their training, rather than rue the imposition of an unexpected external influence. I don’t assume that paying referees ensures this happens, but it certainly rewards a job well done for little personal benefit.

In my opinion, it’s when you’re not doing well that people seem to bother putting the effort in. Now that we have enough referees, people say we can’t be paid because they can’t afford us. Rather than an asset, we’re a liability. Rather than an investment, we’re a cost. When did this happen? Why are referees expendable now? Why is payment not supporting performance?

$500 tournament fees.
6 months training.
$200-$500 travel fees.
Regional Ref: $7 per game.
20 minutes you can’t afford to lose? Priceless.

Losing Me
September 26, 2008, 6:17 pm
Filed under: Sports

“Do you realise you hate canoe polo?” She looked at me over her glasses, note pad in one hand, pen tilted toward lip.

“I beg your pardon?” As a member of the Auckland men’s team, a devoted follower of over a decade, a regional referee and local personality, I most certainly did not. Canoe Polo was my life. It has been my sport of choice since I was 20 years old, sent me overseas to World Championships representing my country; it has shown me my limits and my potential; introduced me to people I might otherwise never meet. How could I hate my life? What was she saying?

“You hate canoe polo,” she said.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had promised myself that I would play until the day I died, if remotely possible. I might have to paddle a bit more slowly, and I was planning on staying in the international scene as a referee until my eyesight failed. I was hoping to be a halfway decent official some day. My entire retirement path involved more involvement, not less. Nothing would stop me!

That’s what I told myself when I was having a bad day. If we lost too many games, if my team hated me, if the opposition loathed me, if I made too many bad calls, I could explain it. My training was half hearted, I didn’t have many friends outside the sport, and my relationship was within the sport and in the shit, but I didn’t want to hear it.

“You shoulders are tense, your facial expression is tense, you are breathing quickly and shallowly, the way you talk is tense and fast and basically, your body language is telling me that you hate it.”

Aghast, I realised she was telling the truth. Fortunately, the session had ended. For the next two years and a bit I have kept her opinion in mind, and fought it. I’ve tried all sorts of ways to stay in the sport, to contribute, to make good of myself and give back what I’ve received, but with every passing session, every minute on the water, I did not succeed or gain more motivation, or make more friends or gain more skills. Slowly but surely, my love for the sport was dying.

I guess I tried to stay because to leave it, would mean I would lose the people I had known for most of my adult life. Having worked so hard to be a good referee, an experienced player (even if not the best), I was loathe to finally be able to afford the game but not the emotions. I told myself I could fake it until my enthusiasm was real. This is how strong and stubborn I can be. I will not quit. In my first year of teaching, editing a book, and losing almost continuously, both on and off the water, even dealing with some fairly heavy health issues, I was devastated- but still playing, still trying.

No, I don’t hate canoe polo.¬† I can’t meet my expectations of performance. I don’t hate canoe polo, but who I’ve become within it.

Perhaps the game will still be an option for me, eventually. It’s about time I gave it up, but I’m not that much better off for losing it.

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