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June 07, 2018

Dragon boat racing: A great way to experience the spirit of teamwork

Paddles ready. Set. The horn blows. Stroke. Stroke. Stroke. The end is in sight. The horn blows again. The race is over. 

What is dragon boat racing? 

Take twenty paddlers sitting two abreast, someone standing and steering at the back of the boat, and a drummer sitting in the front of the boat keeping the paddlers' stroke pace. Put them all together in one large boat decorated like a dragon. Together, this group will do their best to propel their dragon boat along a fixed-distance course in the shortest amount of time. They will normally compete against 5 or 6 other teams of similar size in standard dragon boats to race distances of 100m, 200m, 500m or 2km. Dragon boat teams can be made up of just women, just men or both women and men.  The key is to maximize the ability of the boat's crew to work together for a common goal.  

The key part of dragon boat racing is practice and repetition. Together. The better the crew paddles in unison, the faster the boat will go.  Every part of the race is repeated at practice. The start.  The middle. The end. Then pulling it all together and practicing that, yet again.  Ultimately, the dragon boat crew wants their efforts rewarded with valuable seconds shaved from their team times on race day.

The great rewards of dragon boat racing

Friendships - nurture old ones and build new ones. 

Community - come together with like-minded adventurers who love the idea of enjoying local public water-front property and even opportunities to travel internationally to invitational and competitive events. 

Confidence & Competence - build competency in a skill as well as build your physical and mental endurance. 

Competition - Compete recreationally or competitively - you can choose for yourself.

Enjoyment - it's plain fun to paddle with fun people.

Pick a race. Experience the excitement of competition.

Now that you know a little bit about what dragon boat racing is and the numerous benefits associated with it, now let's consider whether or not you want to race recreationally or competitively.  Generally speaking, recreational teams tend to practice on the water a limited amount of time and race with the primary purpose of having fun.  Teams that are somewhat more competitive, generally practice spring, summer and fall on the water and focus more on their competitive performance.  At the highest levels of dragon boat racing, racers give a much larger commitment that often involves training several times a week, year-round to prepare for highly competitive races. Many paddling clubs will offer both recreational and competitive opportunities for you to choose from. 

Find your paddling club. Belong to a community with heart.

Most waterfront towns or cities are home to paddling clubs that offer dragon boat racing. Whether you want to simply watch from the shoreline or get in a boat and race, many of these clubs offer both recreational and competitive opportunities for you to choose from.  Find a paddling club in our Athlete Advisor, your online business directory for all things active. 

Sunnyside Paddling Club - A club focused on nurturing dragon boat racing and its club members.   

Last June, we met up with Sunnyside Paddling Club in Toronto and experienced a dragon boat practice first hand. And I do mean first hand. Two Thunderstruck teams practiced this particular evening which meant two drum seats for Judy and I to sit in. It was an awesome perspective to begin to appreciate the teamwork required for successful dragon boat racing and to feel the coordinated movement of everyone working together to move the boat through the water. The absolutely stellar water conditions on Lake Ontario this particular evening was the icing on the cake. As both crews worked through the paces of their practice, we watched as the two stearspeople - Blake and Taylor - nurtured a perfect blend of focus and fun for everyone paddling that night. They were great at their respective helms. As the sun began to set in the west, the teams directed their dragon boats back to shore.  The evening ended with some final team planning for their upcoming dragon boat race at Marilyn Bell Park on Toronto's lakefront.  

Race Day - On the water at Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto.

As we scanned the morning horizon of a muggy, mid-July Saturday morning, the team tents spread throughout Marilyn Bell Park, too numerous to count, illustrated the interest in competing in this fast-growing sport. Paddlers' backpacks and belongings were stacked under each team tent.  Team members were gathering together to prepare to compete. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation.  Throughout the morning, on the water and with each race heat, teams made their way in their boats down to the start line. With each horn, a race underway. Stearspeople and coaches yelling encouragement.  Drummers keeping the team's heartbeat. Total teamwork to the end. An awesome sight to see.

Athlete Gallery - Photo highlights of Sunnyside Paddling Club's weeknight team training and weekend race day. 


(SeeWhatSheCanDo wishes to thank Sunnyside Paddling Club for their support and Kate Davidson for her editorial assistance with this article).


Find the Sunnyside Paddling Club in our Athlete Advisor, your online athletic business directory. Find, rate and review programs, local community offerings and businesses that will help you do your thing.  

Post your upcoming dragon boat event on our SWSCD Hub.  Find or start a dragon boat group on our SWSCD Hub.

Look for advice, stories, news and more on our Outdoor Adventure activity pages.  

Have your own great dragon boat racing memory or moment you'd like to celebrate?  Share your highlights directly on our Discover blog or by using #seewhatshecando on social media and inspire others to get active. 


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