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General Dragon Boat Paddling Technique

It is NOT rowing.
It is NOT canoeing.

It is NOT kayaking.

But it is similar to outrigging.





photos below are courtesy of  GWN. Technique developed by World Champion False Creek Racing Canoe Club, BC


Overview: Unlike canoeing and kayaking,
Dragon boating utilizes a special "forward stroke" technique, where all paddling takes place ahead of the paddler's spine. 

This technique is comprised of at least 4 motions, and can be very difficult for seasoned canoers and kayakers to learn, because it is different.


Before the stroke:
"Paddles Up" position

-Rotate torso to show your back to the shore
Reach! The blade should be at the thigh of the paddler in front of you.
Inside hand is high, at least in front of your forehead if not higher. Inside shoulder is at least as high as your inside ear.
Prepare for "leg drive", where you securely prop one or both feet against a bench or footrest... this leg positioning transmits the upper body thrust directly to the boat.


Here is a side view of a boat assuming the "paddles up" position during a race: 

Almost-perfect form... a little more upper-body rotation at the catch, and then we're talking world-class technique!



1a. The "Catch": entry

-Reach forward and drive the top arm down, blade as far forward as possible without losing timing. Some coaches may encourage spinal lean to lengthen the pull segment.
-The paddle appears almost vertical from the front of the boat, but appears 45 degrees from horizontal when viewed from the shore.
-Advanced paddlers strive to extend the catch even further forward, to perhaps 30 degrees from horizontal.


Catch Entry Mistakes:

-Common mistake #1: failing to reach FORWARD to catch the paddle (aka  "canoe dipping" ).  If your blade enters at your knee, the water speed grabs your paddle, and then you've failed to move water.

-Remember:  all of the effective movement of DB paddling takes place AHEAD of your body, from the thigh of the paddler in front of you, to your knee. 




1b. The "Catch": bury it!

"Bury" the paddle as deep as your fitness and timing will allow: Ideally your lower hand touches the water.  Keep the paddle blade perpendicular to the keel of the boat at all times.  This "burying" motion is made shallower as the stroke rate increases. 


Catch "Burying" Mistakes:

-Common mistake #1: "chili dipping" --failing to bury the paddle sufficiently.  If only half of your blade is below water during a 65spm rate, then you are wasting at least half of your stroke energy.

-Common mistake #2: paddle twisting --mistakenly turning the paddle to any angle other than perpendicular to the keel.  




2. Pull/Draw:

This motion is very short... the lower hand only travels 12 to 14 inches backwards until it reaches the paddler's knee.

-The muscles involved:  lower back, obliques, and triceps. 

-You "de-rotate" your upper body (shoulders return to perpendicular rest position), and simultaneously sit up straight  (any spinal lean becomes a vertical spine, recruiting lower back erectors). **Upper arm tricep can help** by pushing forward on the paddle handle, levering the upper paddle forward.


Pull-Draw Mistakes:

-Common mistake #1: gripping the lower paddle shaft too tightly. This fatigues the lower bicep unecessarily.

-Common mistake #2: using the lower arm as the primary power muscle.  Although this may work if you have biceps and shoulders of steel, the real work is done by the torso oblique and torso back muscles during the "de-rotation" of the upper body.  The lower arm's job is to gently clamp and hold the lower paddle shaft, and transmit the torso muscle energy to the shaft. If your biceps are pumped at the end of the race, perhaps you are spending your energy on the wrong muscle tissue.

-Common mistake #3:  pulling too far back, past the knee and hip.  See "Exit" mistakes below.




3. Exit

-Exit begins at the knee, and the blade tip fully leaves the water before the hip.  The upper arm is allowed to drop slightly as a second of rest, and the paddle blade exits the water diagonally.

-When viewed from the front of the boat: the paddle rotates from vertical to 45 degrees, and the paddle blade exits up and away from the side of the boat.

-When viewed from above: the paddle describes the bottom of a "D" movement , and is now returning forward on the arc of the "D".  
(For left-side paddlers, think of the mirror-image of the "D" for your side of the boat)

-The blade tip is only  6 inches above the water surface.

(Joe's photo is unavailable here... he fell out of the practice boat)

Exit Mistakes:

-Common mistake #1: sweeping or shoveling -- the paddlers pulls too far back, past the knee and hip.  This actually slows down the boat because it interferes with the timing of the paddlers behind you, and it pulls the boat downward into the water, increasing draft and waterfriction.

-Common mistake #2: vertical exit -- although this looks beautiful, it rapidly fatigues the inside shoulder... 3 times faster than the correct diagonal exit will.  Only advanced paddlers should strive for vertical exits of their paddle.

-Common mistake #3: "windmilling" -- see "Recovery" below



4. Recovery


-Using a gentle whip-like motion, the paddle is "flicked forward" back to the "paddles up" position. This motion uses a gentle arc, describing a modified "D" above the water surface (for right-side paddlers). The inside shoulder is initially dropped slightly from the exit motion, but immediately returns to the high inside shoulder "paddles up" position.  The back and shoulders again rotate to face into the boat and to "show your back to the shore".

-Left-side paddlers: think the mirror-image of a "D" when you perform this motion.

-The recovery motion is a brief half-second rest that helps flush lactic acid from the inside shoulder and teres major/ latissimus dorsi muscles.


Recovery Mistakes:

-Common mistake #1: windmilling --the paddler lifts the blade too high, perhaps a foot or more above the water. This wastes time and energy, and usually throws out timing of the people behind you.

-Common mistake #2: slow recovery --the paddler seemingly pauses at the exit, then takes an extra quarter-second to flick forward to the catch position.  This throws off the timing of the paddler directly behind you, and often results in banging paddles.

-Common mistake #3: forgetting to twist-rotate the upper body --under stress and during fatigue, beginning paddlers mistakenly keep their shoulders square to the boat.  Instead, you must TWIST AND ROTATE to show your back to the shore, and to reach/extend your catch as far forward as possible, all while keeping time and tempo.



Notes About Stroke Rate 
The db stroke technique is executed at varying spm  (stroke-per-minute) rates to achieve different purposes:

-Technique training stroke rate is around 45 to 50 spm.  Most paddlers can sustain this pace while completing full upper-body rotation at the catch and  fully burying the paddle.  Your coach should spend one-on-one time with you during this rate to supervise your technique.

-"Six-Sixteen start drill" can rate from 60 to 80 spm.

-Race pace stroke rate is around 65 spm for novice teams, about 72 to 80 per minute for intermediate teams, and 85+ for advanced teams.

-"Power" stroke rate is the same as your team's race pace, but your coach will incorporate deeper catches and/or more upperbody lean to facilitate this power interval.

-NOTE: at rates of 72 spm and higher, it becomes very difficult to completely bury the paddle and maintain pure form.  The World Champion Chinese team use a special half-buried technique to maintain their blistering 120 spm rate. Your coach will discuss the pros and cons of going to higher stroke rates.  For beginning boats, a sustainable rate of 65 to 68 spm is recommended.