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Dragon Boating

Dragon Boating may be a sport you’ve never heard of. It may sound unusual and is not a traditional sport in North America. 

Dragon Boating is a water sport, stemming from China that uses a specialized boat for up to 20 people. Festivals, where teams compete, always include traditions from the origins of the sport. The most important tradition is the decoration of the boat with a dragon head and tail. Festivals typically kick off with an eye-dotting ceremony to “awaken the dragon.” 

On the boat, there are three positions: drummer, steer, and paddler. The drummer is stationed at the front of the boat, facing the paddlers, with a drum to keep the paddlers in time. The steer stands at the back of the boat using the steering oar. The paddlers fill out the seats in the boat. In a boat, there is room for 18-20 people sitting two to a row. The most important part of Dragon Boating is not how fast everyone is paddling but actually paddling in sync with each other. Teams have to work together to be cohesive and stay in time. 

I got the opportunity to do a “try-it day” on a Dragon Boat. I was with a boat of about 12 new paddlers and a few experienced dragon boaters from the Calgary-based team, the Reservoir Dolls. We started with a short dry-land session to learn how to stroke with the paddle and the commands. We then got ready to get in the boat with life jackets and paddles. We paired up, trying to have a partner that was about the same size to keep the boat balanced. Then we got in the boat and headed out. The stroke when dragon boating is different from other strokes used in canoeing or similar paddling sports. It is important to keep the blade of the paddle straight up and down while in the water.

Dragon Boat Key Tips: 

  • REACH 
  • KEEP YOUR BUM AND LEG TO THE GUNNEL (edge of the boat) 
  • Dragon Boats are VERY stable; they’ll almost never tip as long as it is balanced 

After first trying dragon boating, I thought it was super fun, and that I’d try to join a team next season. However, a few weeks later, my mom called and asked if I would join her team! I got to join at the last minute for the festival that was happening in two and a half weeks. I went to two practices, where I learned a lot. It got easier each time, and I was less sore after each practice. At the last practice before the festival, I got moved to the back row after having been close to the front, but it actually worked out well. The back of the boat is skinnier than the middle and front, so it was easier to stay against the gunnel. 

At the festival, we had five races. The first two races were 200 metres, followed by three races that were 500 metres. Those 500-metre races felt long and tiring! We won a silver medal and even beat our coach’s team in one race!

It was really fun to see so many people doing a sport that I had barely heard of. If you ever have the opportunity to watch or try dragon boating, I would highly recommend it! Visit to learn more about the sport and find information to participate or volunteer.