Friday, September 24, 2021

Dragon Boating by Joan Donaldson-Yarmey



Dragon boating

Dragon boating is a very popular water sport and there are festivals held all over the world. Many of those have special breast cancer survivor races. Every four years there is an international breast cancer survivor-only festival put on by the International Breast Cancer Paddling Committee.

I belong to a breast cancer survivor dragon boat race team in Nanaimo, B.C. I have been to international festivals in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Caloundra, Queensland, Australia, Sarasota, Florida, USA and Florence, Italy. About one hundred teams gather from around the world at each of these events and it is amazing to see the thousands of women dressed in pink.

Each team has twenty paddlers in the boat, plus one drummer and one steersperson. The drummer, who sits at the front with a drum and baton, pounds the drum to keep us paddling in rhythm while the steersperson in the back keeps us on course. Both of them watch our paddling technique. The boat is narrow at both ends and bulges in the middle, making it a tight fit for the paddlers at the front and back. There are two paddlers per seat and the person beside you is your partner.

As paddlers we have one hand on the handle of the paddle and the other on the shaft near the blade. We raise the paddle and lean out over the side of the boat so that the paddle is vertical and both hands are over the water. We bend forward which puts the blade of the paddle beside the hip of the person in front of us. This is our reach. We jab the blade into the water and pull it back until it is near our own thigh then lift it out. That is our stroke. All the twenty paddlers have to do this in unison, called timing, in order for the boat to go forward. The faster we stroke the faster the boat goes.


The following is a list of orders that can be given to dragon boat paddlers by their steersperson or drummer. I have heard them all either during practice or in a race. However, taken out of context some may be considered a little off colour.

Do you mind stroking for us?

Do you have any wax for my shaft? 

We'll do a wet start.

Give me two more inches.

Lower your hand on the shaft.

Pull out sooner, you're getting me wet.

It's really tight back here.

You're holding the shaft too tight, relax your grip.

Dig it deep and feel the glide.

Open up and show your partner your chest.

Don't bob your head.

We are a bit front heavy.

Give it to me.

Don't pull out too soon.

Give it all you got.

Close your eyes and feel the rhythm.

Pull it out at the same time as the person in front of you.

I have a blister on my butt.

Lift your butt cheek when you reach, it helps you thrust more.

You're pulling out too soon and it's splashing me.

Deeper, harder, stronger, faster.

Dig, dig.

Keep it long.

Long and strong.

Harder, harder.

Faster, faster.

Power finish now.

You have this, you have this.


  1. Interesting little comments. Wishig you and your dragon boats much luck

  2. I wonder where the dragon boat name originated. From the pictures, they look like smaller versions of the Viking boats, which featured dragon heads. Thanks for sharing. Unfamiliar with the sport, I now feel I'm not completely ignorant of it.


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