Paddlers high five after a good race at the Capital Lakes Dragonfest in Madison, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY TERESA SPRECHER
Paddlers high five after a good race at the Capital Lakes Dragonfest in Madison, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY TERESA SPRECHER
My 19 teammates and I stepped carefully into our 1.16-meter-wide, 12.9-meter-long, very unstable and oversized racing canoe with an ornately carved dragon head at the bow. We took our assigned seats.

“Paddle in sync, OK?” the official starter helpfully reminded us mere moments before the race.

Turning his attention to the entire fleet of dragon boats in our heat, he yells “Boat No. 2 move up. Boat No. 4 move back. Boat No. 2 move up again. We have alignment.

“BEEEEEEEP!”

Hearing that, 18 paddles are thrust in unison into the water, in a series of strong, deep strokes to get the boat up and out of the water and into a rhythm until the 450-meter course is covered in less than three minutes.

Dragon boating, despite needing a team of 20 to move a single vessel, is accessible to anyone with an interest. Paddling skills are not a prerequisite. 

For 12 years now, I’ve paddled on and coached dragon boat teams. I’ve worked with kids, disabled people and even out-of-shape smokers. Not all teams master the techniques, but they all enjoy the teamwork required.

One of the biggest obstacles for many teams is getting 20 people to commit to at least two practice sessions prior to an event. It’s typical to see teams on race day scrambling to fill their boats. So if you ever want to jump in a boat to try it, contact the organizers of a dragon boat festival to find out who is in need of paddlers.

The entirety of Eve Graves' report on dragon boating in the Midwest appears in the May 2014 print edition of Silent Sports. To order a copy, call 888-706-4045. Or subscribe online and don't miss a future issue!