Dragon boaters back on the water

Story by Jeff Gard/Total Sports Quinte

Many local dragon boaters are getting back on the water this summer as local organizations look to rebuild their programs following a couple of challenging seasons.

Some pivoting was required, of course, especially in the spring of 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For instance, the Belleville Dragon Boat Club developed a kayaking program with members donating the use of their personal kayaks to the club for the entire summer in order to have different groups with eight paddlers at a time.

“Some other members who owned kayaks also brought their boats so had 10 to 12 people paddling at one time,” said the club’s Commodore Nancy Lewis. “We had four different groups going out each week and were able to expand in 2021 with an additional paddling session, so five groups going out each week.”

The kayaking program is continuing this year with eight boats available for people who don’t own one, but want to paddle as it launched June 1. At that time the club was still accepting registration for some time slots and you would now need to contact the club to see if they are still available. The kayak program is held Tuesday and Thursday mornings and evenings.

Dragon boat racing came to a halt from spring 2020 until August 2021.

“By the time the boats were on the water last year most organizers couldn’t put together festivals for competition,” Lewis said.

That’s about to change this year. In June, the Belleville Dragon Boat Club members be taking part in a 150-kilometre paddle down the Trent Severn Canal in Peterborough. The five-day event is organized by Dragons Abreast (dragonsabreast.ca), a breast cancer survivor crew from Toronto, with funds raised directed to a breast cancer support fund.

In August, some of the Belleville club’s members will join forces with paddlers from the Pickering Dragon Boat Club to represent Ontario at the Canada 55+ Summer Games in Kamloops, BC. They will events in Pickering, Guelph and a third to be determined to prepare for the national event.

Since its launch in 2004, the Belleville Dragon Boat Club has developed three distinct programs to focus on the different interests of its members. There is a recreational program Tuesday and Thursday evenings for those who want to paddle, but at a more leisurely pace; fitness program Monday and Wednesday evenings for paddlers who want to make dragon boating part of their fitness program as it provides an intense workout; and race crew program Monday and Wednesday evenings for those who want to compete.

Dragon boating is available in Belleville for ages 14-and-older with some members continuing past age 75. Lewis noted it’s a great team sport and basic skills are developed quickly.

“With the different programs people are able to paddle with the program that suits their abilities and interests,” Lewis said. “We provide equipment and the opportunity for someone to have two dragon boat paddling sessions before they need to decide if they want to become a member.” Great team sport and basic skills are learned quickly.

“Wonderful cardio workout and participants get to enjoy the beautiful Bay of Quinte from a new perspective – in a boat,” she added.

Not surprising, there are a number of challenges that come with dragon boating as well.

“For new paddlers it’s the concept that working in unison is essential. Every new paddler works so hard as boats are heavy but the key to success is paddling together as a synchronized unit,” Lewis said, adding weather conditions as another challenge.

“High winds can result in crews having to reduce numbers to lighten boats if waves are coming over the sides of the boat. Intense heat and sun can be draining for athletes as competitions take place over the course of a number of hours.”

There is often a challenge as well to recruit a sufficient number of men for a mixed crew as the sport is more associated with women, Lewis noted, as dragon boating began in Canada when a Vancouver physician recognized the benefits of the physical activity for women recovering from breast cancer.

Check out more about the Belleville club at www.bellevilledragonboatclub.com.

Brighton Dragon Boat Club

In Brighton, dragon boating has been available since 2007.

Prior to the pandemic, the Brighton Dragon Boat Club had grown its membership to around 100 members and now 2022 is a year of rebuilding. In May, in addition to getting the word out on social media and through street signs, the club held an open house and an open paddle session in an effort to recruit some new members.

“A number of past members are not ready to return to our sport where there is such close contact,” said club president Tricia Boehme, who is also head coach of the competitive program, while noting there has been success. “To date we are approximately 90 members.”

Members of the Brighton Dragon Boat Club.

There was no season in 2020 and last year Dragon Boat Canada advised no club paddling until August and there were no festivals to compete in.

“We were guided to fill boats at half capacity of 10 paddlers instead of the usual 20,” Boehme said. “The capacity restriction was lifted shortly after implemented, however our club chose to keep the reduced numbers. We had a small membership and a reduced paddle schedule, but we managed to get out on the water for both our competitive and recreational programs.”

Brighton’s competitive program started in May and practices two nights per week to work on technique, speed and endurance as well as a race plan leading up to festivals. The club competes at a recreational level.

Members were looking forward to the fundraising festival in June in Peterborough, which the crew won in 2019.

They’re also hoping to defend a 2019 win when the YMCA’s Trenton Dragon Boat Festival returns this year on July 16.

The Brighton Dragon Boat Club is open to anyone 14 years old and up. The club’s recreational program is for members who wish to go out on the water and have a fun paddle for an hour on Presqu’ile Bay. Six sessions are available each week and members are welcome to sign up for as many as they wish.

Meanwhile, the competitive program has two practices per week with sessions more focused on technique, endurance and strength. The program was previously referred to as the race team (HeatStrokes).

“We wanted to encourage as many new paddlers as possible to try the sport and so created a competitive program with the option to race if interested,” Boehme said.

Members thrive with the challenging team aspect of the sport, “realizing that success comes from 20 crew members giving everything they have in unison and that success doesn’t lie with just one or two paddlers,” Boehme said.

“We must always be aware of what’s happening in the boat and react to situations. The individual steering the boat has a very challenging job getting the crew to the start line, keeping the boat straight and then controlling the power of 20 down the race course. Keeping a sustainable stroke rate can be another challenge as crew excitement levels rise.

“It will be more challenging for us this year as we have a number of first time paddlers to quickly get up to speed on technique and racing. We are excited though for this challenge and the new members are showing great progress. The adrenaline rush of a race is always exhilarating, especially when you win.”

Keep up with the club at www.brightondragonboat.ca.

Trenton Rowing and Paddling Club

Dragon boating won’t be available in Trenton this year, but the hope is for it to return in 2023.

The Trenton Rowing and Paddling Club was formed in 2013 and added the dragon boat program in 2017 when a boat with all the equipment was donated to the club.

“We run a small program for those that want to enjoy the physical and social aspects of dragon boating without the pressure to compete,” said Suzanne Andrews.

In 2020 and 2021, the club was able to have shortened seasons for rowers and paddlers, but unable to offer dragon boating due to the challenge of keeping members physically distanced. This year presented another challenge.

“We are currently searching for a replacement boat as we have retired our dragon boat due to its age and the amount of work required to ensure it is safe and usable,” Andrews. “We plan on coming back in 2023 with new equipment and volunteers in place to run a successful recreational program.”

Be sure watch for information about the program’s return at trentonrowingandpaddling.ca as dragon boating is open to adults of all ages and beginners are always welcome.

“Experienced members of the team look forward to sharing their love of the sport with those with no experience,” Andrews said. “There is a lot of fun involved with dragon boating and everyone learns to work as a team which brings so much satisfaction to the group.”