The 2019 Calgary Dragon Boat Festival
will be held on Saturday, August 10th and Sunday, August 11th.
Dragon boat racing originated in China more than 2,500 yearsago. What began as an attempt to save a beloved statesman and poet from a river suicide has grown into a cultural celebration in cities around the world. Long, narrow boats made of fibreglass or teak hold 20-22 paddlers, a drummer, and a steersperson. On festival days, the boats are decorated with colourful dragon heads and tails. Festivals are a display of cultural diversity and usually include music, dancing, and martial art demonstrations.
Dr. Don McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at the University of British Columbia, launched Abreast In A Boat in 1996 to test the myth that repetitive upper-body exercise in women treated for breast cancer encourages lymphedema. Dr McKenzie believed that by following a special exercise and training program, women could avoid lymphedema and enjoy active, full lives. As they followed his program, they were carefully monitored by a sports medicine physician, a physiotherapist, and a nurse. Dr McKenzie’s theory was proven correct. No new cases of lymphedema occurred and none of the existing cases became worse.
From a medical study involving one boat of 25 women in 1996, the organization has now grown to include five boats based in Vancouver and has inspired the formation of many other teams in Canada and around the world.
The Dragon Boat Crew
The drummer, who is the ‘heartbeat’ of the dragon boat, sits at the front of the boat and leads the crew throughout a race with the rhythmic beating of a drum. This indicates the timing and frequency of paddling strokes. The leading pair of paddlers, called ‘strokes’, set the pace for the crew. A good drummer will synchronize their drumming cadence to the strokes, not the other way around. If they are experienced, the paddlers can feel the response of the boat to their strokes through their paddles and will adjust their reach and catch of the blade tip to the acceleration of the hull through the water. The drummer pays attention to the position of the boat relative to other boats, and to the approach of the finish line, and calls out tactical orders to the strokes and crew as to when to surge ahead, when to hold steady, and when to peak for the finish in a tightly-contested race.
The steersperson controls the dragon boat with a steering oar that is mounted at the rear of the boat. They will usually relay the drummer’s calls to the back half of the boat during a race and ensure that the boat stays on course to avoid disqualification.
The paddlers sit facing forward. It is crucial that their strokes are synchronized; this is more important than the strength of the crew.