Starting this blog out on a new venue should be fun! So,we will try to make it more interesting with photos and graphics. Since I have now been through four seasons of dragon boating (DB), I will take a moment to share my experience with this exciting water sport, the fastest growing team water sport in the world! Past blogs covered some history and other aspects of the sport.
Since I starting paddling (yes, NOT rowing) with the DC Dragons team in Washington, DC, I have been fortunate to have won more than a dozen medals -- from first to third place wins. The medals are hung on two Chinese statues in our living room. It's starting to look a bit cluttered. Still, it's fun competiting and winning!
Four years ago in my first season, the DC Dragons were in a rebuilding period and we were usually not expected to win our races against the New York and Philadelphia teams. We race in the NE region of the United States Dragon Boat Federation Eastern Region Dragon Boat Association (ERDBA). ERDBA assigns points to certified races and if a team wishes to be ranked, they need to race in enough of the sanctioned races. At the start of that first season, we pretty much conceded the race to the NY and Philly teams and looked to place third. Interestingly, we got better each season as we began gaining experience and confidence and looked more for silver than bronze medals. By the end of the second season, we even gave the #1 New York team a scare by beating them in a preliminary heat. We travelled to Chattanooga, TN to compete in the U.S. National Championships and placed third in the 500 meter finals. The first and second place winners were blazingly fast. Last season, we traded some wins with the number one teams and actually placed second overall behind New York in the final ERDBA standings. That was a powerful message to our competitors! The difference with our team and theirs is that we do not train like it's the olympics as the others do. We tend to mix fun with intense training. Afterall, it is a volunteer sport.
As an aside, our team had four members who made the U.S. National Team, each in a different division: Youth (under 18); Junior (under 30), Senior (30+), Master (over 50). To qualify for the national team, you have to be the best 40 paddlers in the nation through water trials. The U.S. team raced in the World Championships in 2011. This year our senior paddler helped the U.S. team take gold against the world!
Several weeks ago our DC Dragons team travelled to Toronto, Canada to compete. There were over 100 teams. On day-1 of the races, it rained most all day, the wind blew, and with wet clothes, we were cold. Some of the team members bought jackets that were being sold by dragon boat clothing vendors. I was prepared; I was layered; I was comfortable, probably due to my years living in Chicago winters with days of -60F!
Race preparation includes the following:
1) Warm-up to increase heart rate and respiration plus stretching,
2) Coach's pep talk,
3) Line-up according to seating position. One paddles either on the right or left as two paddlers sit side by side in the dragon boat.
4) Move as a team to the marshalling area,
5) Assemble in the marshalling area by the docks. Put on Personal Floating Devices (PFDs) and pick up paddles,
6) Await the marshalling judge to confirm that each paddler is registered (signed waiver, etc.) by the wrist bands we get,
7) Move to the assigned boat when called and get seated,
8) Paddle out to the start line for 200, 500, 1000, or 2000 meter races. 500 meter races average less than 2:15 minutes for competitive boats. World class teams do the 500 under 2 minutes! 200 meter races are about 1 minute. 2000 meter races average around 11 minutes. In general dragon boat races can be considered sprints. Most DB festivals have 200 and 500 meter races. Occasionally, there are 100 meter races to show off how fast a team can get off the start line. These are hectic, splashing, heart pounding sprints! On the way to the start line we usually practice starts to get used to the rhythm and type of water we will be racing in.
9) All boats are lined up by a starter. Once lined up, the starter will call: "We have alignment." "Attention." And then sound a horn to start the race.
10) The race itself has at least four segments: a) Powerful start to get the 20 paddlers, drummer, steer person and 500 pound boat up and moving (when loaded, that's nearly 2 tons to move!), b) a fast paddle rate to bring boat to maximum speed, c) a transition to race speed that is sustained throughout the race, and d) a call to 'bring it home' to increase power with a slight increase in paddle speed to sprint to the finish. That's it. At the finish, you know you've been in a race!!
Try it, you may like it!
© Baldwin H. Tom CMC