General Dragon Boat Paddling Technique
(False Creek Canadian style)
This is NOT rowing.
This is NOT canoeing. 
This is NOT kayaking.

(But this is similar to outrigging.)

Photos below are courtesy of  GWN and the Tragically Quick/Paddler's Anonymous teams from Ontario. This specific technique has been developed by the 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 some coaches will teach it as a 7-motion technique.

If you are a seasoned canoer or kayaker, you will most likely find this stroke difficult to learn at first,  because it is much more torso-specific and rhythm-specific than canoeing and kayaking.

Historical note: Canoeing and kayaking are only a few hundred years old, while dragon boat paddling is 2000 years old. 


Before the stroke:
"Paddles Up" position (reach and rotation)

Twist torso to show your back to the shore.
Reach forward! The blade should be beside the thigh of the paddler in front of you.
Keep inside hand high, at least as high as your forehead.
Prepare for "leg drive", where you securely prop one or both feet against a bench or footrest.


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" or "Entry"

Reach forward and drive the top arm down, while the blade is as far forward as possible without losing timing. Some coaches may encourage spinal lean to lengthen the pull segment.
The paddle appears almost vertical when viewed from the front of the boat, but appears 45 degrees from horizontal when viewed from the shore.

1b. "Bury the paddle"

"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.  

If you increase paddling rate, then you will have to decrease the paddle depth to maintain timing. Ask your coach about this. 


2. Pull/Draw: "Moving Water!" (aka compression phase)

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, lats, inside arm tricep and some outside arm bicep.

You "un-twist" your upper body (your shoulders become perpendicular to the boat for an instant), 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.


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 brief rest, and the paddle blade exits the water diagonally.*

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

*some teams emphasize a more vertical exit, other teams emphasize a more diagonal exit. Ask your coach about this

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

Here are some Brits demonstrating a paddle exit. Note that the paddle blade moves away from the boat during the exit.

4. Recovery (return to reach- extension position)

Using a whip-like motion, the paddle is flicked forward to the "paddles up" position. This motion uses a mild arc, describing a modified "D" above the water surface (for right-side paddlers). The back and shoulders again twist-rotate to reach your arm forward.

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

The Dutch women demonstrate a beautiful recovery to their "Paddles Up", ready to catch water again.

Training Suggestions:

1) Basic technique should be learned before timing.

2) Team timing should be developed before power.

3) Power should be developed before rate.

4) Rate will be developed last with intense endurance and sprint drills.

5) Twice a week, 75 minutes each, is a minimum practice schedule. Advanced teams practice four to six times a week.


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

-Basic 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 sequences" 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 with intense power is recommended.


False Creek Training Manual Hong Kong Training Manual