Dragon boating is a relatively simple sport with a paddler needing only a lifejacket, a paddle and a water bottle. You can wear whatever is comfortable as long as you realize that you’ll get wet. Either made of wood or carbon fibre, the paddles have a cross bar handle and are straight from the handle to the blade.
Though related to a canoe, a dragon boat demands a different and specific type of stroke that facilitates synchronization. Paddlers sit tight to the outside gunnel of the boat with the inside hand on the top of the handle and the outside hand on the shaft, about five cm above the blade. The top arm forms a C shape to guide the paddle, keeping it as near to vertical as possible. The outside arm directs the entry, pulls back in conjunction with the core and then raises the blade sharply out of the water and forward for the next entry. When seen in isolation, the top arm goes up and down with little change to the C shape. The outside arm makes an elliptical motion from paddle entry, through the pull to the exit and them up and forward. Though the arms direct the motion, it is the core that provides most of the power for the pull. Once the paddle is in the water, the core pulls the unit back, drawing the paddle through the water. Once finished the stroke, with the paddle out of the water, the core again leans and pivots forward to allow the lower arm to reach to the thigh of the paddler ahead.
There are 20 paddlers in a dragon boat. The front two must be short paddlers with a good sense of timing. These two are called strokes or pacers. They set the pace of the stroke in collaboration with the drummer. The next two rows join the strokes and work as a unit, providing the pace for the rest of the boat. The next four pairs of paddlers are the mid-section that provides power with stability. They are the conduit that connects all paddlers. The stern section is called the engine room or rockets. These paddlers are usually taller and able to reach further before inserting the paddle. This is important because the 14 paddlers ahead of them are churning up the water with each stroke. The engine room must deliver power despite the turbulence so they reach further and pull through.
Paddlers are familiar with the term “catch” because a coach calls this to familiarize paddlers with the action of paddle entry at the thump of the drum and the sound of the word. When paddlers are not synched, the boat wobbles in the water. The ride will become smoother as paddlers find the timing. The drum cannot be the only indicator for rhythm so paddlers also rely on paddlers that are diagonally ahead for timing. By attending across the boat, our attention is like a zipper, keeping all paddlers attuned to the pace. For the most part, we use the full blade to pull the maximum amount of water on each stroke but if we get lazy the coach might tell us to quit “lily dipping.”
For new paddlers, the greatest challenge is moving from a canoe J stroke to a dragon boat vertical stroke. But, with perseverance and patience, a dragon boater anyone can be. Give it a try.
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