If you have had a chance to see or even hear a dragon boat practice or race, you have most certainly heard the drum. Our drums echo over Dragon Lake and we have been told that residents are well aware of when our practices are held.
The drum is secured at the bow and the drummer wedges herself in place around the drum, with her back to the bow (the front) facing her team. She sits higher than the paddlers and at times can feel unstable in choppy water but we have not lost a drummer…yet.
The drummer/coach is the person who coordinates the practice. We have several coaches so you might hear different voices but the message and the mission are the same.
The drummer works with the front paddlers to beat a rhythm that can be followed by the whole team. On every beat, the blade of the paddle should be entering the water. Key to dragon boating is the synchronicity of all paddlers and this state is maintained by the drummer. The pace may vary depending on the focus and 40 – 60 beats a minute is the typical pace.
Each coach looks for ways to improve technique. They seek to perfect skills like: the rotation of the core, the soft C of the upper arm, the verticality of the paddle, the five per cent minimum lean of the body or the use of the core to pull the paddle through the water.
At practices, the drummer decides which drills best suit the focus. If she wants to develop technique, she might employ a pause drill, which fosters a rapid paddle exit and quick recovery to the front of the stroke in preparation for the next paddle entry.
If she wants to build endurance, she might implement a power sequence, where the team paddles for an extended length of time cycling between 60, 80 and 100 per cent effort repeatedly.
If she wants to build strength, she might call for a tug of war. This drill pits half of the team against the other half. Ten paddlers paddle hard while the rest try to hold the boat in place by placing their paddles in the water as brakes. A drill that can incorporate a variety of skills is the caterpillar drill. Here, every row of paddler will paddle a set amount of strokes, like 15 or 20. The first row paddles five strokes and the next pair comes in on stroke number six. The first row continues to paddle until the set amount is reached. Then, each new pair joins in on the sixth stroke of the pair in front of them. The drummer will count the strokes of the back pair so that the front can begin again. Once in motion, the sequence is smooth and the drummer just maintains the rotation.
On race day, the role of the drummer turns from teacher to conspirator. She uses her enthusiasm, her voice and the drum to inspire the paddlers to give every ounce of effort. At the start line, once the officials are confident with boat placement, the drummer calls “paddles up” and “attention please.” At this, every paddler is ready with her paddle in the water, waiting for the first stroke. On the horn, the drummer begins to beat six slow hard strokes during which paddlers take the boat from zero to motion. Next the drummer calls “up, up, up” and beats a quicker pace to urge paddlers to bring the bow up to a plane where it skims the surface. When all feels right, the drummer calls “reach it out” and now paddlers settle into a full powerful stroke. During the race, the drummer might say “stretch it out” to get paddlers to reach further or “you can do it” to bolster intensity. When she calls “power ten, now” paddlers dig deep and give even more.
A typical race takes just under three minutes during which the drummer is aware of how her team is working, of where the other boats are and of how quickly the finish line is approaching. Imagine the energy of four to eight drummers and their teams doing this at the same time!
So, when you next hear our drum and those commands, think about joining us. Recreational paddling is on Wednesdays and Paddling is Awesome Day will happen Aug. 17. Both are great opportunities to ride on the lake in dragon style.
– submitted by Liz-Anne Eyford