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Dragon Boat As A Sport

Posted on 03 January 2017

When I was in high school, I played many different types of sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, football, track and more. The sport that stood out to me the most was dragon boat. Dragon boat is a water sport similar to rowing/crew, but dragon boat consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a person who steers. Some dragon boats could have different lengths to accommodate more paddlers.

dragon boat paddlers

History of Dragon boat

Dragon boat began 2500 years ago in China as a celebration of summer rice planting. Traditional dragon boating takes place mainly in the Chinese lunar month. Since then, dragon boat has been a major tradition and ritual as of today.

The Crew


The purpose of the drummer is to provide a beat for the paddlers. The paddlers have to paddle in sync similar to a music conductor using his baton for his/her musicians. The drummer can vary the speed of the rhythm to make the paddlers move at a steady pace or paddle faster. Without the drummer, there is no sign or indication for the paddlers to follow. 


The paddlers have to learn a synchronize technique to paddle. The motion begins when the paddler reaches far out in front of them while having their chest facing the paddler beside them. The paddler's bottom arm is firm and straight and the top arm is angled. The purpose of the angled arm is to drive the paddle into the water. The bottom arm is straight to pull the water. After practicing the technique, the paddlers have to synchronize with the drummer and follow the beat. If one person misses a beat or doesn't follow the rhythm, it will make the boat move slower. Imagine if you are in a small boat by  yourself and you paddle one side for a minute. Where would you think the boat would go? The boat would only turn and would not move forward. There is so much technique and practice to become a perfect dragon boater.  


Most people would think the steersman is the least important person in the boat. However, the steersman is just as important as the rest of the crew. The steersman has to make sure the boat is going straight. If the boat drifts off to the side, the boat could lose some time in a race. There have been many races where boats have lost by a millisecond.

dragon boat race in San Francisco

The picture above is the dragon boat crew from 10 years ago. We had 3 groups, Black Group, Red Group, and Gold Group. The different groups are levels of experience. Black are  beginners, Red is intermediate, and Gold are expert paddlers. So, imagine 3 groups and 20 paddlers. That is 60 people in a dragon boat team! With such a large team, you meet new people and develop a relationship. Sure, you meet new people in football, basketball, and like many other sports. However, dragon boat is a co-ed sport that allows any gender to participate. There are fun competitions in the sport such as male or female only races. I remember when I first started, I constantly splashed my teammates all the time. My teammates hated it, but I wasn't a very good paddler. I practiced and got better and minimized my splashes and became part of the Gold Group. Looking back, I would most definitely race in dragon boat again. It is a very fun team sport and provides great exercise.


-Robert Lau

Knock On Wood 

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