Paddles Up for Dragon Boating

Every spring and summer, Vancouver’s False Creek is inundated with hundreds of paddlers training for the annual Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival (aka Rio Tinto Alcan Dragon Boat Festival) that draws racing teams from all over the world to compete. Among the oldest and largest dragon boat festival held outside of Asia, it began in 1986 at the Expo 86 World fair and today draws over 100 teams, 2500 paddlers and over 100,000 spectators. This year, the festival will take place on June 21-23, 2013.

A dragon boat is an open boat in the shape of a dragon that is fitted with a drum, head and tail. Propelled by paddlers using single bladed paddles, it is steered by use of an oar. Competing teams row their boats forward to a drumbeat, racing to reach the finish line first.

cantravers dragon boat

Cantrav has been hit hard with dragon fever this year. With 3 Cantravers on 2 different racing teams, we thought we’d let them describe this remarkable sport and why it’s a perfect group activity or team building event.

Why is Dragon Boating fun?

Michelle: Dragon Boating is an awesome activity to see Vancouver from the water. Not only do we get to enjoy the amazing scenery that Vancouver has to offer, we share the water with so many others including seals and sea otters! It’s not uncommon to be paddling and have a friendly wave from one of our fine whiskered sea friends!

Monica: Because you get to be on the water and exercise outdoors with a great group of people. I love the team work involved and the smiles on my teammates’ faces as we complete a gruesome 500 metre race! You also get to challenge yourself and that is very rewarding after you complete your practice or race.

Why is it hard?

Michelle: Dragon Boating is hard and requires strength, endurance and skill. Working together as a team and to the beat of only one drum. The hard part is soon forgotten over a burger and beverage after a hard practice. The satisfaction come from enjoying the local waters, scenery and people.

Monica: Because it is more that just rowing…. There is a very distinctive technique that makes the moving of the boat efficient, and it also makes it easier for your body.

Why does Vancouver love dragon boating so much?

Monica: Because you get to gain a very different perspective of the city as you travel the False Creek water ways. I love seeing the sun setting beyond the Burrard Street Bridge, the many Vancouverites enjoying the outdoors on the seawall, the stand up paddlers along the creek and the couples enjoying a glass of wine from their yachts, the many people sitting on the rocks at Athletes Village as they catch a glimpse of the sun. You get a sense of a city being active and having FUN.

It is also awesome to be on the water after the sun sets and all the lights start appearing on the Downtown core, Science World and the Bridges…. That is pretty cool.

Any tips for beginners?

Michelle: warm up before practice, wear waterproof shoes or shoes you do not mind getting wet, eat well – you will be burning some calories, wear a cap to protect yourself from the sun or rain and sunglasses too. Have fun!

Monica: Keep on the beat and remember to breathe. It is a water sport so you will get wet. Remember to look around and admire our beautiful city.


A few common commands one might hear on the water:

Paddles up – All paddlers should be in the ready position to start the race.

Take it away – Signal to start paddling.

Let it ride – Sit with blades out of water (many paddlers favorite command). Recover and breathe.

Power force now – Signal after start to increase the intensity of paddling.

As you can tell, Cantrav loves the teamwork that is involved with dragon boating and think that this is a perfect incentive or team building activity. Give us a call, we’d love to tell you more!