There is something magical about the sport of dragon boat racing. Whether you paddle, steer, coach, drum, officiate, or watch, the experience is unique. Some of us have participated in all of these positions. To get an idea of the magic of each, here’s a breakdown:
- Paddling: The dragon boat paddling technique is unlike any other. It is similar to outrigger canoe, but since the paddles for OC are different, it isn’t exactly the same. You paddle on one side in a dragon boat. Techniques can differ, but it primarily involves placing one hand on top of the paddle T-grip to drive the paddle into the water while the other hand holds the bottom near the blade to pull the paddle through the water. Timing is everything in a dragon boat, where in a standard size boat 20 people must follow the same cadence. Every boat/crew is different, which is what makes the experiences even more interesting. Paddling in a dragon boat is the ultimate in mind-body connectivity.
- Steering: While the paddlers are focused on paddling and not paying attention to the direction of the boat that is going down a racecourse at speeds of 10-15 mph, the steerer who is standing on the platform in the back is focused on keeping the boat straight. To do that, it requires intuitively responding to what the 20 paddlers are doing as they paddle. As a steerer, your feet feel every movement in the boat. When there is any shifting needed while you’re steering, your feet know it first. As you gain steering experience, you react much quicker to the movement of the boat. It takes focus and dedication to steer, and a keen understanding that 20 people pulling you in a narrow boat can be quite adventurous.
- Coaching: At community festivals used for fundraising, the steerer is most likely also coaching the team. The coach is typically the first impression paddlers get of the sport. Getting a great coach who is an effective teacher and motivator is always a treat. Teams often bond with their coach so much that they really want that person to steer for them on race day. At some races managed by Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing, the charities producing the event hold an auction before championship finals so that teams can put money on their favorite steerer to boost their chances of winning. The most successful auction so far was in Lewes, DE, where more than $14,000 was raised on the auction alone.
- Drummer: The drummer either has the most fun, or the most harrowing ordeal. On race day, the drum seat at the front of the boat is tiny, and considering the person sitting up there can feel every movement but can’t control it like the steerer can, it is an act of faith to stay up there. Drummers must trust the steerer to control the boat while also keeping the team pace going.
- Officiating: It takes a team on the water to properly execute a dragon boat race. The same rings true for officials off the water. Every aspect of the race has to be well coordinated for supreme success. For community festivals, the primary officiating positions include: race starts, finish line, marshaling and chief official.
- The race start official lines the boats up fairly and then uses the pre-arranged commands and air horn to signal the race start. The starter also communicates with the finish line so that the personnel there know when to activate the timing of the race.
- The finish line official uses the designated equipment (camera, computer, timing software and printer), to record each race and then play it back frame-by-frame to capture the time.
- The marshaling official uses the race schedule to make sure the teams arriving in marshaling are lined up in the correct lane. If there are rules, such as 8 female paddlers and a drummer required, the marshalers check to see if each team is abiding by the rules. If there is any infraction of the rules, the marshaler notifies the finish line. The marshalers also verify that each team member sports a wristband signifying they’ve signed a waiver. When the volunteer dock handlers are ready, marshalers send the teams to load boats.
- The chief official oversees the race to ensure fairness on the water by coaches/steerers and participants, and the officiating crew. This person handles any discrepancies or issues that arise. The chief official acts as a liaison between the officials and participants, and ensures the race is progressing smoothly.
- Spectating: Dragon Boat races are fun for the family. Many festivals offer activities, games, food, live entertainment and music. Watching on the water is just as fun as the on land action, along with seeing the drummer’s costumes and team attire.
In case you didn’t know all about the magic of how a dragon boat race happens, the magic is in the teamwork. Come see us in action. Check out the 2014 Dynamic Dragon Boat Racing schedule.