With many Dragon Boat paddlers, new and old alike, even the most basic ideas can be foreign. The starting point for every paddler should be good grip on the paddle, and proper seating position
Grip on paddle
Grip 2-3 fingers above neck of paddle.
Thumb wrapped around opposite side from fingers
iii. Grip should be firm but not tight, with all fingers around
On personal paddles: build a ridge above thumb/forefinger (i.e. O-ring covered with electric tape) and another below little finger position.
Hand loosely placed on top of T-grip.
Thumb under or over the T-grip.
While sitting in the boat with body in basic position, hold the paddle upside down in your bottom hand in its usual position on the shaft.
Extend you arm parallel to water: top of paddle should just touch water
Torso angled slightly forward, chin over mid-thigh region.
Gunwale leg: braced against seat in front or extended forward to push back with.
Inside leg: braced for stability against seat you are sitting on with knee pointing towards centre of boat
Slide against gunwale of boat, positioning weight on gunwale glute.
Rotation is all initiated through the hips by letting inside knee rotate outwards, pushing inside hip back
Rotation extends from hips through lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, NOT into cervical vertebrae
Keep head looking straight ahead through paddle shaft or up and across for timing cues.
Gunwale side shoulder should now be leading
Reach is achieved from the shoulders and arms
Torso position and angle remain unchanged in boat (no diving forward from waist, or by flexing back)
Top arm extends forward to keep paddle angle closer to vertical
Arm is relaxed in reach, torso is stretched
TOP ARM DRIVE
Top arm initiates paddle entry into water at angle between 70-80º
Bottom shoulder pivots allowing both arms to drop towards the water simultaneously
Paddle travels along path continuous with shaft of paddle, not vertically
Once blade of paddle is submerged up to neck, top arm drive ceases, stabilizes and becomes HIGH PIVOT POINT
Catch is moment immediately after top arm drive ceases, stabilization is begun and pull is initiated
This is a crucial point in the stroke and should be controlled
Once top arm stabilizes, gunwale leg initiates push that puts pressure on blade by starting rotation in torso then transmitted into arm- arm is relaxed and pull absorbed on shoulder and wrist
Water pressure on paddle increases dramatically as rotation increases in speed
Pull on bottom shoulder matches and slightly exceeds hull speed
Top arm (shoulder, elbow, wrist) height about equal to shoulder
Top hand position (vertical and horizontal) remains stable during first half to two-thirds of the stroke
Torso position does not change- rotation around long axis of spine
Top arm may drop slightly at exit
Gunwale shoulder does not come behind spine: finish square to direction of boat travel/long axis of hull
One element that it is essential to convey to paddlers is the importance of a vertical and square blade through the pull. Many novice paddlers have a twisted blade and never maintain a vertical angle. The following table illustrates what happens to paddle force as blade angles change. This may well explain the huge margins of victory seen between teams who may otherwise be identical.
EXIT (GOOD TECHNIQUE)
Exit initiated at knee,
At end of stroke bottom arm relaxes,
There is a slight external elbow rotation and upper arm is lifted up to side,
Top hand remains relatively fixed in space,
Elbow leads the exit to outside,
Wrist curls inwards “around the paddle” pushing blade out of water to side,
Exit should be clean and relaxed,
Exit completed by mid thigh.
EXIT (EASIER TECHNIQUE)
Exit initiated at knee
Blade exits vertically
Top hand pulls up along length of paddle shaft
Bottom arm assists slightly
Exit completed by mid thigh
Gunwale side leg bends slightly at knee to “reload”
Inside leg pushes back to initiate rotation
Emphasis on relaxed recovery
POWER through STROKE RATE vs. FORCE per STROKE
The power output of each paddler contributes to the speed of the Dragon Boat. Each paddler’s power output is a function of their stroke rate (assuming water time and air time to be proportional) and their force per stroke (kg). Too much rate reduces force, too much force reduces rate. There is an optimal balance point for each paddler and crew For novices and early season paddling for all other paddlers, it is essential to learn how to paddle with good force at slow stroke rates. As the season progresses increase the rate slowly. Ideally you may be using rates as low as 40 strokes per minute early in the year. Look at increasing this by 5-10 strokes per minute per month. Without learning the basics at low rates, you will not be able to paddle well at higher rates. Learning faster stroke rates can be done by gradually adding intensity pieces at higher and higher rates.
At the novice level and this early in the season for any other paddlers, starts are not very important and do not figure in training much. However, they are fun and motivational for all paddlers. We suggest adding starts in for novice paddlers after 5-6 practices and walking through the start sequence a few times each session. Always emphasize doing starts slowly to ensure learning takes place In a race a novice crew, in fact any crew will do much better having worked on timing and proper paddling technique as opposed to blazing fast starts. For “race simulation” pieces we recommend that novice teams adopt the following start procedure.
All attention focused on drummer for commands,
All paddlers verify their torso position,
All paddlers verify their leg position for stability and set up for stroke one with gunwale hip forward slightly and leg ready to push hip back,
Paddle is held in a relaxed position across the legs, bottom hand and blade over the water.
Activate abdominal muscles to stabilize torso,
Rotate top hand up over bottom hand so blade is vertical, perpendicular to
Position whole blade in the water,
Begin bracing with legs in anticipation of start signal,
Exhale and hold breath listening for start signal.
“Go”: Stroke 1
Shorter stroke covering only the last ½ of a full stroke.
There is some rotation, slight elbow flexion and a pronounced leg drive to get a deep, slow and powerful stroke.
Shorter stroke covering only the last 2/3 of a full stroke.
There is more rotation, less elbow flexion and a still a definite leg drive in a deep, slow and powerful stroke.
Stroke rate increases slightly (~5 strokes per minute increase).
Keep speed of initial strokes low: no white water or big boils surfacing anywhere.
It is common for novice and experienced crews alike to go straight into full length stokes within 5 strokes per minute of racing stroke rate
The next stroke lengthens some more to the last ¾ of a full stroke, still slow and powerful using a little more rotation. There is no elbow flexion except at exit.
Stroke rate increases slightly (~4-5 strokes per minute increase).
Stroke rate increases slightly (~3-4 strokes per minute increase).
Next stroke is a full stroke length, but still slow and powerful.
Stroke rate increases slightly (~3-4 strokes per minute increase).
The last start stroke is a full stroke length, but still slow and powerful.
Stroke rate remains the same or only a slight increase (~1-2 strokes per minute increase).
Three to four transition strokes to increase reach and rotation (drummer calls out, “ready-and-reach”).
For novice crews there should be NO sprint strokes. The timing will fall apart and compromise the remainder of the race.
Settle into race rate and effort quickly. The start is a place to either gain distance on other teams or loose it. If you spend time on working on a good start, you will gain distance. if you rush your start, you will loose a lot of distance very quickly.
The steersperson is the person responsible for the safety of the crew and the boat. It is their job to ensure all safety equipment is on the boat and the boat is water worthy. The drummer should understand that at any time the steersperson can take over boat for safety reasons. Steering is a skill achieved through practice, just as paddling is, and a good steersperson can win or loose a race for any team. For novice teams, we suggest having a number of steerspersons within the team and rotating through them from practice to practice. At this level going in a strait line is the number one priority. This is best achieved by having the steersperson learn to use small corrective strokes as opposed to using the steering oar like a rudder. As with all steering positions, always keep your head up and look where you are going.
Drummers control the boat. No questions asked. If the drummer says something, the team must be conditioned to respond as a unit. The only exception to this is that the steersperson can take over boat at any time for safety reasons. For many novice teams it will be the coach who assumes this role. The drummer, coaches the crew through the workout, calls technique reminders, and keeps the crew motivated. The toughest job for the drummer is learning what excites and what calms the crew, then using each when appropriate. In some cases a good drummer will know this for each paddler.
The strokes set the rate for the rest of the boat. They work as a pair, left and rights with one being the dominant pace setter for any given workout or piece. Your strokes should be fitter than the average paddler so that they are able to keep the stroke rate for the entire race piece without tiring. Your strokes also need to be very confident and able to gauge when the boat is working well. They should also be able to tune out the incessant requests from the middle of the boat to go faster. Having a number of different strokes is always a good idea. This way you can have spares in the case of injuries and absences.
The front seats of the boat are quite tight and better for smaller paddlers.
Lighter paddlers with very good timing are best used in this section of the boat as the timing of the rest of the boat comes from here.
You will also want to consider placing good technical paddlers here; those with good entries, good catches, and good endurance.
The middle seats of the boat are best kept for your taller and stronger paddlers. They will be more comfortable and better able to use the space. Keeping your heaviest paddlers in the middle also helps with keeping the boat balanced.
The back seats of the boat are a mixture. Some coaches put their worse paddlers here thinking that they won’t interfere too much way back in the boat.
We tend to think that putting a poor paddler in the back virtually eliminates him or her given the fact that the water at the back of the boat is moving quite quickly and is tricky to paddle in. We favour placing some technically good paddlers at the back, especially those paddlers who can stay in time regardless of what is happening right around them
BALANCING THE BOAT
When loading and balancing the boat don’t be too exact in seeking to balance the lefts and rights, fronts and backs. Admittedly it is important but don’t underestimate balancing paddler strength, moving your drummer over slightly one way or the other, or leaving empty seats. Play around with different crew set-ups, and if in doubt leave your boat flat or slightly bow heavy.
COMMANDS ON THE WATER
“Paddles up”: ready to paddle, all paddlers with paddles above water ready to enter water
“Take it away”: begin paddling.
“Let it run”: stop paddling and let the boat glide
“Hold the boat”: place paddles in the water and brake the boat to a stop.
“Back it down”: paddle backwards
“[front] / [back] Draw [left] / [right] “: initiates a turn using draw strokes by the designated paddlers
“[load] / [unload] from the [front] / [back]”: to indicate how you want your crew to load the boat.