DragonBoat Racing!

Posted: September 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

In addition to cycling, every week I practice with my dragon boat team. This weekend we competed in the Mercer County Dragon Boat Festival. Our mixed crew placed 1st in the C division (& I sat stroke for the 500m races!)

The name of our team is Dragon Boat Crew (DBC) & it consists of a number of subgroups. The Philadelphia Fire Dragons is our mixed team, and the one I paddle with. Spitzfire is our women’s crew, and the Dynamic Paddlers are a bit of a “farm team” for our main crew. We can be found on meetup.com here: DragonBoat Crew

Dragonboating is a great sport, here are the basics:

The Boat: The dragonboat is essentially a long canoe that seats 20 (10 rows of 2). The reason they are called dragonboats is because the sport originated over 2000 years ago in China, and during races, an ornamental dragon head is affixed to the front of the boat.

The Crew: A fully loaded competition dragonboat carries 22 people, and can easily weigh over 4,000 pounds. 20 of the individuals are “paddlers”, and they sit 2 to a row (hard, bench-style seats). The front 2 paddlers are called the “stroke pair“. It is their job to set the pace for the rest of the boat and to demonstrate good form. The middle of the boat is called the “engine room“. It is the widest part of the boat and is usually filled by some of the teams strongest paddlers.

Also on the boat are the steersperson & the drummer. The steersperson stands in the rear of the boat & their job is steering the boat down a course in the straightest line possible, maintaining good boat balance during  wakes and turns & avoiding other water crafts. The drummer sits in the front of the boat, facing the paddlers. Their job is to help reinforce the pace by beating on a large drum and also communicating commands to the paddlers. Our coach always fills one of these two roles during practices and races.

The Gear: Like any sport, dragonboating can be expensive if you start picking up a lot of gear. The only necessities however are a paddle and a life jacket. The paddles range from very basic plastic, to wooden, to carbon fiber, with each costing a little more. Life jackets range from your run of the mill PFD (personal floatation device) to fanny-pack style pouches with co2 containers that inflate the vest when you pull a rip cord.

Everything else just makes the sport more comfortable, because at its core, its not. Sitting on a hard wooden bench for long periods of time and sliding back and forth while paddling can cause, at best, chafing. Lots of paddlers use a variety of pads to help stabilize their position on the bench and for general comfort.

The boat itself costs thousands of dollars and offsetting this cost is part of the reason teams usually charge a nominal membership fee.

Races/Season: Typical race distances are 200 meters, 500 meters & 2,000 meters. The dragonboat season generally starts as early as it is possible to go out on the water (march) and will continue until it is too cold to go out anymore (november). Most competitions fall in the May-September months.

Teams range from breast cancer survivors to elite international teams. Its a sport everyone can do, and there is a team right for the level of intensity anyone is looking for. www.meetup.com is a great place to find a team near you!


Below are three videos that give you a pretty good idea of what dragonboating actually is. The first one demonstrates basic technique, the second is an overhead comparison of two teams racing, and the third is  an “in the boat” view of a very strong team practicing (although I’m not a fan of their form :D).


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