Dragon Boat is More Than Just Paddling

by Kerry Taylor

Teamwork, it’s something that is always thrown around but is it ever truly understood? Whether you’re a business owner, on an athletic team, in a relationship, a part of a family- a team is basically any combination of people can work together to achieve one common goal.  Sometimes the definition can fall short in achievement.  One person ends up doing more work than the others and the other side is okay with it, as long as they can enjoy the rewards of whatever level of effort they put in.  This past weekend I experienced the true definition of teamwork, I participated in my 6th Dragon Boat Race with the 212 team, Fire on the Water.  

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Picture this, 23 people working together to move a 1500+lb boat 200m down the river as fast as possible to grab a flag and beat the rest of the boats around them.  It is a true test of speed, endurance and synchronization of a team and its individuals.

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 When I started dragon boating 6 years ago, I had no idea what we were in for, what we were doing, or how to get that boat moving at its optimal speed. I even think at our first practice we sat in the boat facing the wrong way. LOL.  Eventually, we faced the right way and got the boat moving.  Then it came time to actually see how fast we could get this boat moving. I mean, we had a bunch of in shape, strong people as our paddlers, we should have that thing cutting through the water with no problem, right?  Wrong! We all paddled as hard and as fast as we could, and we moved the boat but not that far or fast to equal the effort we put in.  As we recovered from that attempt we heard a drumming and a bunch of yelling, and around the corner comes this boat cruising down the river, in synch and coordinated. Ahhhh…now we know what we need to fix. 

We practiced our synchronization and adjusted our seating arrangements and, voila, we were starting to now get our act together.  We practiced a few more times, and then it was race day. We made our way into our boat and the horn went off to start our race.  Aaaannnnnndddd we reverted to what we did on day one, paddles all over the place, but we completed it.  Heat 2 we got better as we got our timing down.  Unfortunately, that year we didn’t win but it was an amazing experience.  

As years continued to go by, we became a force to be reckoned with as we understood what we had to do. One year it all came together and we were able to win our division, with an extremely fast time of 1:12. It was an amazing day for team Fire on the Water. It took a few years, but we stayed with it and got our rear at the end. We even had 2, 212ers get engaged that day right after the race.  

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Some lessons I’ve taken from Dragon Boating (that apply to life and teamwork):

Have a great steersman

Having someone that can steer and command the boat is a big piece of the puzzle.  If you have that then all the paddlers have to worry about is paddling and not over thinking things and wondering if they are going the right way.  Just like the coach of a team, a great coach can help take the pressure off because they will put you in the right position to achieve your goal.


One person out of rhythm slows the boat

In order to get the boat to go its fastest, all the paddlers have to be in synch.  One person out of synch does not allow you to move the most amount of water at one time and therefore slows the boat.  Just like a bad seed, if one member of the team truly don’t want to give their best effort for the team then the team will eventually fail, sooner or later.


Don’t worry about other teams

Keep your focus in your boat. If one person decides they are going to change up something because they see another boat going faster, then the boat slows down.  Just like a plan you set for yourself, follow the game plan that you set for your team.  That is what gives you the best chance to win because everyone knows it and is on the same page.

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Lead paddlers set the pace

Your two lead paddlers set the pace for the rest of the boat. If they slow down, the rest of the boat slows down.  On every team in life, sports or not, there are leaders that set the pace for everything else that will happen.  They speed up, the rest of the team better find a way to keep up.

Your TEAM wins or loses together  

We win a race or lose a race as a team, that’s the way it should be.  No one will win an individual award for being the fastest paddler.  It’s either “we” did it or “we” did not.

If you’ve never participated in Dragon Boat Racing, I suggest you give it a shot.  Not only is it a great time with others, but it is also a helluva challenge for a group of people to take on.  It will also teach you a lot about life and how you are as an individual when it comes to achieving greatness with others.  I hope to see you on team Fire on the Water next year. Until next time, continue to live life 1 degree above the rest.

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