The most important skill to master in dragon boating is, of course, the
stroke . The paddling technique is simple enough that a beginner can begin an
approximation of the technique in his or her first few practices, but to move the boat
with the power required in competitive racing requires a constant effort to refine the
various elements of the stroke. Most beginners will find dragon boat paddling
awkward, because it places you in an unnatural position: paddling on only one side of the
body, pulling the water rather than pushing it (as in other paddle sports such as
kayaking), and keeping the stroke all up in front of you. But with time, the body
will become used to this positioning and it is then that true progress towards becoming a
competitive dragon boat paddler will be made.
There are 4 elements to the dragon boat stroke: Reach/extension, catch,
pull, and exit. We'll examine each element separately.
1) Reach. Reach refers to the action of the paddler
leading up to and beginning an individual stroke, though not the placing of the paddle
into the water itself (see element number 2, "catch"). The paddler wants
to place the paddle as far ahead of him or herself as possible, ideally stretching the
paddle up past the bench immediately in front of the paddler. By placing the paddle
as far ahead as possible, the paddler is maximizing the amount of time the paddle will be
pulling through the water, and therefore maximizing the amount of force he or she is
putting into making the boat move.
If the paddlers on a team do not reach far enough forward on their
strokes, they will simply not be able to put enough power into each stroke to be
competitive, and will be wasting most of the energy that they're exerting.
2) Catch. The second component of the dragon boat
stroke refers to how the paddle is placed down into the water, how the paddle
"catches" the water. Ideally, the paddle should not simply be dropped into the
water, but some force should be exerted downwards on the paddle, to make it
"dig" into the water. The blade should be fully buried to the end of the
blade once catch is completed, in order to pull the maximum amount of water.
On the Tragically Quick, we emphasize catch by letting the paddle
"hang" before thrusting the paddle down into the water. "Hang"
refers to the paddler noticeably holding the paddle up in the air for a few moments at the
end of the reach phase, before driving the paddle down into the water.
3) Pull. The next phase of the stroke refers to the
movement of the paddle through the water, once it has been planted by the
"catch" phase. With the paddle as far forward as the paddler can place it,
the paddler pulls the paddle back through the water.
The stroke should be asstraight as possible, because any other movement of the paddle (for instance, slightly
perpendicular) would contribute nothing to the forward movement of the boat, and would, in
fact, weaken the general forward movement of the boat by pulling the boat slightly in
4) Exit. This refers, obviously, to the action of
taking the paddle out of the water at the end of the stroke. The ideal dragon boat stroke
should be quite short, and as much as possible in front of, rather than behind the body.
The stroke should end between the knee and mid-thigh of the paddler, and no further
back. Beginning dragon boaters (and alot of dragon boaters who've been doing it for
years) have a problem with too long of a stroke. They may think they're
getting more power into the stroke by continuing it beyond their knee-mid thigh, but
technically, since the stroke is powered by rotation of the trunk of the body forward
rather than backward, pulling the paddle through behind your body results in a wasted
expenditure of energy.
Pulling back too far also would necessarily result, timewise, in the
paddlers being able to get less strokes in in a race than with a proper stroke, since
they're wasting all that extra motion. The number of strokes a team is able to get
in during a race can make the difference (along with other factors such as rotation and
total technique), for example if boats are evenly matched and sprinting towards the
And that's the basics of the dragon boat stroke! Of course, there
are many other factors the dragon boat paddler has to master. Things like rotation
and timing. Also, at various phases of a race, different elements of the stroke
technique will be emphasized for different effects. But for the beginning dragon
boat paddler, knowing just the four elements of proper stroke technique is the most
important thing to understand. In the future, I'll add more on the other factors.
(The above was written by Michael
Diack, a veteran of the Tragically Quick.)