What it’s like on the Boat

A more specific term for dragon boat as a sport is dragon boat race, which is a team paddling sport on water, using painted boats to which are attached decorative dragon heads and tails. The length of the race can be 500 meters and the normal crew number is 22, including 20 paddlers, 1 steer and 1 drummer. It is a variation of rowing that originated in China and is still associated with the traditional Chinese dragon boat festival or Tuen Ng Festival in Hong Kong.

Roles
During the dragon boat race the paddlers sit in pairs, facing forward unlike in rowing. The steer, also called a helm or steersperson, either sits or stands at the back of the boat. A drummer sits at the front of the boat facing backwards, and helps set the pace of the paddle strokes by beating the drum.

Steer
Good steers keep a straight course during the race, and also keep the boat and the crew safe. During the race, a steering oar is used which is mounted on the left side near the rear of the boat, and by pulling the handle of the steering oar to right, the boat will then go left, and vice versa. Besides that, a steer may also instruct the paddlers to take specific actions. In order to overcome all kinds of noises, instructions need to be spoken loudly and clearly so that the entire team can hear them. To ensure safety, he also needs to familiarize himself with the rules and other safety considerations such as the use of personal floatation devices, the weight distribution of paddlers, and the local water and weather conditions, etc. A steersman for the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is provided to each team from the trained volunteers at Buena Vista Ski Patrol.

Drummer
The drummer and the lead paddlers together set the pace for the rest of the team to follow. As strength is not a requirement for a good drummer, light-weight women are often chosen for this role, and are acceptable on all male teams. In many teams the drummer rather than the steer determines when the paddlers are to change pace, and therefore a loud voice is essential for the role.

Paddlers
Paddlers sit facing forwards and paddles are used in a canoe fashion (rather than the kayak style typical of crew). Because each individual handles only one paddle, paddlers will become specialized in right or left-handed paddling. Left-handed paddlers are typically in higher demand. Stronger paddlers are typically placed closer to the front of the boat, with the most experienced making the lead pair located directly after the drummer. The lead paddlers and the drummer together set the pace for the team. All other paddlers synchronize their strokes to the paddlers in front of them (whom they can directly see) and the drum beat (which they can hear). In sharp maneuvers, paddlers on one side of the boat may be instructed by the steer to back paddle, or lift or drag their paddles.

And Please Note: No experience is necessary, just a willingness to have fun!