Dragon Boats. Perhaps you’ve seen them cruising or flashing by on Lake Union where Seattle Flying Dragon Boat Club practices more than 200 times a year, year-round. Dragon boat racing is the oldest continuously practiced team sport in the world, dating back 2,400 years in China where it continues at that country’s national sport. Over the millennia the tradition has evolved into an international competitive sport. An estimated 50 million participate in dragon boat paddling yearly in more than 100 countries.
The Seattle Flying Dragon Boat Club’s Lake Union boats 41-feet long, 3.5 feet wide and weigh 550 pounds empty; between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds when fully loaded with 20 paddlers, a steersperson at the stern, a drummer on the bow and an ornate dragon’s head and tail affixed to the ends.
Are dragon boats fast? Practiced crews pulled water skiers on Lake Union recently. They participate in sprint racing on courses ranging from 200 meters to 2000 meters at speeds up to 13–15 kph. The world’s record on a 500 meter course was recently set at 1 minute 43 seconds by a Philippine team during World Championship competition.
The Flying Dragons you see on Lake Union practice year-round and participate in 8–10 competitive events annually. Their first major event is a demonstration dragon boat race as a feature of the annual Opening Day of Yachting Season hosted by the Seattle Yacht Club the first weekend of May. Then follows a variety of sprint races in Vancouver and Victoria B.C., Seattle, Portland, Kent, San Francisco, Oakland and other venues. When you Google “dragon boat race” its amazing how many opportunities there are to compete each year. An interesting fact about dragon boat racing is that the host of the race usually provides the boats and the course. The teams – ranging from six to more than 200 at larger venues – bring the paddlers and the spirit of teamwork and competition.
The attraction of dragon boat practicing and racing seems to be the fun of a highly social sport with everyone focused on an all-out-effort to be first to the finish line. A unique element of dragonboating is that there is no “super” athlete or group of competitors that are more important than others or key to a team’s success. With paddling rates up to 80+ strokes a minute the most critical factor is teamwork and timing along with the use of identical paddling technique. Twenty paddlers sitting two on a bench with only 30” between them must paddle and blend as one or boat speed is quickly sacrificed. The fun most often mentioned by dragon boat teams is the joy of being outdoors, the camaraderie, competition, physical development and the opportunity to develop a skill that contributes to the success of the group. There are no “heros” or “heroines” in dragonboating, just 19 other team mates to blend with, work with and aspire with toward common goals.
The paddling method used by the club engages the legs and the body’s core instead of the arms and back, providing a full-body workout at each practice. Also, club members change sides on a regular basis while practicing so as not to always engage one side of the body. Paddlers say they like to avoid the “lobster look” of one over-developed arm.
The Seattle Flying Dragons have been operating on Lake Union since 2004. The club is a registered 501(C)(3), moors it’s fleet of dragon boats along the shoreline at Kenmore Air, 950 Westlake Ave. N. and is an active member of the Working Group with the new Lake Union Park.
The paddlers you see on Lake Union range in age from 14 to 87. The minimum age for members is 18, but paddlers from age 12 and up can always paddle for free when accompanied by an adult. The Seattle Flying Dragons always offer a “first three times are free” program to allow people to try the sport out three separate times to see if it appeals to them. If so, club dues are $100 annually, payable in January and $50 after the racing season eases off in September. Considering that the paddlers are on the lake more than 200 times each year, each practice “costs” about 45-cents were someone to attend them all. Whether trying dragonboating for the first time or as a long-time paddler all equipment required is always provided and no reservations are needed. Regular practices are held every Monday and Wednesday at 6 PM, Saturdays at 8:00 am and Sunday afternoons at 3:00 pm.
When you see or pass a dragon boat on Lake Union please wave and say hello. With their focus on teamwork, heads down and pulling water in unison they may not be able to return your wave but your kindness is always appreciated.
For further information, contact Lee Bjorklund, coach, 206.523.4518, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the club’s website at SeattleFlyingDragons.org.