Disclaimer #1 - I am new to Dragon boat. My only exposure was pictures on Facebook and paddlers I greatly respect singing its praises.
Disclaimer #2 – I can now say I really dig Dragon boat and am a fanboy!
Ok, I have to admit, Dragon boat was not something I had experienced in any capacity, including watching, before a recent weekend...let alone having even paddled it. But within the last week or so, I have become a huge fan. Yes the races are shorter than I am used to. Yes you only paddle on one side. Yes it's kinda rad! I attended the Long Beach Dragon Boat Festival at Marine Stadium, and had several observations beyond the typical stereotypes I had before.
No surprise here since its a paddling sport in California, but the open arms of paddlers and race-organizers to take in a wayward vendor blew me away. From letting me hop in a prototype DB1man boat, to setting up our booth, to helping me with a place to stay, I had paddlers who I had never really met in person, make me feel right at home. Similar to outrigger, the welcoming spirit takes this team sport to a whole new level. It was amazing how just knowing a paddler from a team had folks coming up to say “hi” and introducing themselves and asking to learn more about Cali Paddler. I left there feeling very much a part of the family, having just met this community.
Teamwork and the Thundering Sound of slippahs! And Drums!
One of the coolest experiences was around 9am on Saturday morning. It started as a rumble, then grew to a clatter. I thought the weather brought an especially close lightning strike to the vendor areas, but then I saw it. One of the teams for the first race was doing a warm up run, as a team, to the launching area. If you have never heard 20+ runners in flip flops, stomping each footstep in time with each other, you have really missed out. Past our booth they ran, in unison, with paddles in hand and determination on their faces. 10 minutes later, the same sense of timing and teamwork was on display on the water, this time with the cadence of a drumbeat setting their tempo as they raced past the cheering crowd. I had chills in 85degree weather. And this was only the first race.
It rained the weekend I was there towards the end of the day, and a few races were cancelled. But paddlers were jumping in puddles, looking forward to the next day of racing, and all around rolling with the weather and making the best of it. The weather did not dampen their spirits at all.
Respect for the sport.
Each boat is gorgeous. Clean and freshly painted for the race. Adorned with a magnificent Dragon’s head that is pretty cool to look at. Even more cool though, as I took some time to watch crews enter and exit the boats for their race, was the respect the paddlers had for the boat. Coming from an outrigger background, we consider the canoe to be our seventh paddler and deserving the utmost respect. It was clear to me that the paddlers I saw felt the same way with these paddle craft in how they greeted the boat, boarded, and held themselves once in.
Respect for teammates and for the competition
So often during the day I asked paddlers how their race went. I can’t begin to count the number of times that the first thing folks said was about the quality of paddlers in the other boats they raced. Followed shortly by how good their teammates did. It was only with prodding that I was able to hear how they felt in the race. Or hear how well they placed. As someone who has leaned on his teammates many times on tough paddles, this was welcome to see in yet another paddle sport. Team paddlers are only as good as our weakest link, and only together, can we achieve something great. With so many paddlers in a boat for a race, there is no way a single paddler can create success. Only as a unit can they win. But one paddler can be a detriment if they do not do their part and find harmony with his or her teammates. Team sport at its best if you ask me.
So, all in all, Cali Paddler had a blast. We got amazing and helpful feedback on our products from dragon boat paddlers. We shook the hands of some wonderful individuals and paddlers that we now proudly call friends. And we have a HUGE new-found respect for the sport of Dragon boat that you can only get by being immersed in its energy for a day.
Now, can someone please get me in a boat? I’m itching to try it!
Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.
One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!