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Dragon Boat Racing: You Can Do This!

04/18/2018  |  BY rfw

Have you been thinking about getting a team together for the Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races, but you are worried that you don’t have enough experience to paddle one of those monsters? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! The Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation Department is offering free Intro to Dragon Boat Racing classes on June 5th, 7th, 12th, and 14th. (The classes are stand-alone, so it’s not necessary to attend all four.) No previous experience is required and the free training will include an on-shore introduction to paddling and boat safety and an on-water paddling session for ages 14 years and older. To register for one of the four Intro classes, please contact Riverfront Program and Events Manager Megan Butler at 260-427-6248 or megan.butler@cityoffortwayne.org. And, if you’re feeling extra excited, you can form a team and race in the 4th Annual Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races on June 23rd.

I talked to our in-house racing expert for an overview of the sport. Outdoor Recreation Coordinator Eden Lamb was among the 20 paddlers on the Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation boat last June and will be out there again on June 23 during this year’s event. Lamb first participated as a paddler and now trains as a steersman. She travels with Dynamic Dragon Boat, LLC, racing throughout the Midwest.

A dragon boat is a human-powered watercraft that is 46 feet long and 600 pounds when empty. Inside the boat, you will find 22 people total: 20 paddlers, one drummer at the bow of the boat, and a steersperson at the helm or the stern.

Eden says that dragon boat racing is very much a team sport, but you don’t have to be a strong athlete to be part of a team. Some people will be great paddlers, and some just average, but everyone contributes to keeping the boat moving.

The paddles used in a dragon boat have one blade and a t-grip. Your whole body will get a workout when you paddle. Your legs are your support, while the muscles in your arm, shoulders, back and core drag the paddle through the water. Great for strengthening your abs and core!

Everyone in the boat plays a unique role. The drummer is a vital part of the race, as the paddlers paddle to the beat of the drum. According to Lamb, there is strategy involved in seating your boat for success. The front three rows (six paddlers) near the drummer are referred to as the “strokers” or the “pacers.” These paddlers should have excellent form and timing, and the rest of the paddlers will look up to the front to follow their stroke.

Seats 4, 5, and 6 are referred to as the “engine room” and hold your team’s larger and stronger paddlers. The last four rows consist of your strongest people with the best endurance, also called the “rocket” paddlers. The “rocket” paddlers will have to deal with turbulent water while paddling deeper and faster through the water to add value to the stroke.

Each paddler sits hip to hip, with the outside hip against the gunnel to balance the boat as they paddle. The steersperson stands and guides the boat with a long steering oar. The perfect boat glides quickly through the water effortlessly. Everything will be balanced in your boat when the front paddlers are in perfect timing, setting an example for the back half, while the power from the middle is mixed with the speed and capabilities of the athletes in the back. “Every seat matters,” said Lamb. “It’s all a part of the balance. Get to know your team and your boat!”

Synchronization is one major component to finishing fast and efficiently. Synchronization takes practice!  “You can tell when you paddle together for the first time if you’re in sync or not,” said Lamb. “At the end of the day, that’s what everyone is going for.”

In an efficient boat everyone’s stroke looks the same from the form to the timing. It’s important to understand the different parts of the stroke itself. There are six parts to a Dragon Boat stroke. The first is the “reach” position. This is the “A” frame position that sets up your stroke. Second is the “catch” position, which is the moment the paddle enters the water. Third is the “pull” position. You are pulling the paddle directly parallel to the boat in the vertical position. Forth is the “exit” position. This is your exit from the water when your paddle reaches the hip region. Last is the “recovery” when the paddler rests and gets ready and into position for the next stroke. Along with timing, form also takes practice.

A water junkie, Lamb is out on the rivers two to three times a week during the summer, but Dragon Boat racing is by far one of her favorite paddle sports. “It’s not about the racing as much as the community aspect and the importance and beauty of synchronization in your boat,” said Lamb. “Once you jump in a dragon boat and get past the learning and adrenaline stage and really feel the boat moving, you’ll understand the power of 22 people moving a two ton boat across the water effortlessly. That’s the goal. Trying to complete this goal with 22 people is truly magical. You will feel connected to the sport and each other as soon as your paddle blade hits the water.”

Ready to start racing?

Intro to Dragon Boat Racing classes are free and will be held on June 5th, 7th, 12th, and 14th, each at 6pm.


Form a team of 20 paddlers and 1 drummer and race in the Fort Wayne Dragon Boat Races on Saturday, June 23rd. The cost for a team is $2,000 if registering by May 1 and $2,100 if registering between May 2 and June 1.

Call or email Megan Butler at 260-427-6248 or megan.butler@cityoffortwayne.org to get signed up for the Intro classes or the Races.


Mackenzie Joefreda is a sophomore studying Marketing & Management at the Krannert School of Management. She is a member of the Purdue “All-American” Twirling Team and Delight Ministries, and she blogs for the Krannert School of Management Undergrad Life and “the Lounge” by Purdue Bands & Orchestras. Last summer, she worked as a Marketing Assistant with the Fort Wayne Parks & Recreation Department, and as an Intern with Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana.



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