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The Benefits of Dragon Boating

Dragon boat racing has its roots in ancient Chinese culture. Tracing back more than 2,000 years, villagers believed that racing averted misfortune and encouraged the rains needed for their prosperity. The focus of their worship was the dragon of Asia that was believed to rule the rivers and seas and dominate the clouds and rain.

A fully loaded dragon boat holds 20 paddlers, a steersperson at the rear of the boat and a drummer at the front of the boat who beats out the stroke. The boats can come in a variety of designs and colours and during regattas (a regatta is a series of boat races that can include rowing boats, speedboats, or sailboats), a dragon head and tail are often mounted to the boats.

False Creek Racing Canoe Club

The Falls Creek Racing Canoe Club (FCRCC) started in 1985. The goal of the club is to be a multidisciplinary paddling organization, which means that the FCRCC have created multiple pathways for people to become involved. The five main ways that people can get involved in paddling are through canoeing, kayaking, marathon canoeing, outrigger canoeing and dragon boat racing.

Not only are there different forms of paddling, but there are also different ways to become involved. Some people try their introductory courses and others wish to join a team. At FCRCC, people are allowed to try out the paddling of their choosing to see if it’s a good fit and to determine what they really want to do. Once you join the club, you are able to try different disciplines. Many youth become involved with the FCRCC through summer camps and introductory programs.

Dragon Boating and Crisis Program Youth

The FCRCC was successful in obtaining a grant from Canoe Kayak Canada. The purpose of this grant was for organizations to reach out to the community and introduce new people to paddling in a unique way.

One day, while driving, Brendan, Coordinator of Sprint Canoe and Kayak and Ocean Racing at FCRCC, heard an ad for Covenant House Vancouver (CHV) on the radio. The ad really resonated with Brendan, who used to be an educator in high-trauma classrooms. He immediately reached out to see if there was any interest at CHV and received an enthusiastic reply from CHV’s Crisis Program.

To support staff at FCRCC and maximize the impact that this opportunity would have on youth, CHV offered trauma-informed training that the FCRCC could use in their coaching approach, not only for this group, but for future groups as well.

Why Dragon Boating?

Brendan explained why he chose dragon boating as the style of paddling that the youth should experience: “We wanted to have the component of there being an end goal. So, we set it up so that we’re doing six weeks of dragon boat paddling to learn how to dragon boat, and then we’ve entered the team of youth from Covenant House in the Vessi 500 Championship, which happens on False Creek, June 1st.” The Vessi 500 Championship is a regatta that is focused on the local community.

Brendan went on to talk about the life skills that the youth will learn, while learning how to dragon boat: “Sport is one of those things where you have to apply a ton of different things that you would normally do within life, like goal setting, which is not just goal setting, but learning how to build the steps into reaching those goals. Youth will also learn about partnership, friendship, and relationship building, especially outside of their regular circles. Youth will also learn about the importance of proper nutrition. The coaches will be talking about what you should be eating before training, and what you should be eating before races.”

Another life skill that youth will be learning is teamwork, which is as important in everyday life as it is on the boat. As Brendan puts it, “If you’re not working together as a team that boat’s not going anywhere.”

The training period for the youth is once a week, every Friday for two hours, over six weeks.

So, what is the end goal of this program? Brendan explains, “There are the skills that you need to learn — you have to know how to put your paddle in the water, and you have to know how to move the boat forward. But that’s not the end goal. The end goal is ‘How do I function within society?’ and ‘How do I take the skills that I’m learning within this activity and apply those skills to being successful in my own way?’ That’s what we’re trying to do with this program.”

How Is the Training Going?

Brendan explained that there can be a lot of challenges when working with vulnerable youth. There are elements such as a fear of water, fear of the unknown, and being in close quarters with people you don’t know.

So, how have the youth responded to this experience? Brendan says, “The youth have been super keen, very engaged, extremely polite, and there were some that were pretty nervous. The first night of practice, people were standing back and a little hesitant, but by the end of the night, everybody was really engaged and ready to keep going.”

Brendan then called Kat, Coordinator of Outrigger and Dragon Boat at FCRCC, who is working with the youth, to comment first-hand on how the experience was going. Kat said, “On the first day, I know that people didn’t quite know what to expect; they were a little shy, they were a little hesitant, which is understandable. And it’s something different because it is a water sport. So, there was that aspect of the unknown. But by the end of the session, everyone understood the instructions and were having fun, and the cameras came out and youth were taking photos.”

Kat explained that things got even better during the second session: “The youth were really excited about the second session. They were like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to learn. I am here. I’m here with my friends. I trust my coach that I’ve met once so far.’ It was a really good vibe. We were encouraging youth to try different places on the boat, because different seats have different roles associated with them. All of them are equally important, but there’s an area of expertise that is needed for each kind of seat. So, we mixed people up for the second session, and the responses were along the lines of, ‘Oh, I never realized it was like this upfront.’ If they were in the back, they were like, ‘Oh, I actually would be interested in stroking.’ Which means being the very first seat and actually taking on that responsibility for leading everything. It was really cool to see. And then there were some people in the back that thought, ‘You know what? I actually like being in the back. I like following.’ There were different personalities that were starting to come out, which was exciting.”

What’s Next?

Race day is approaching quickly. Not only is boating on the water a sensory experience, but come race day, there will be even more sensory experiences, like crowds and the other teams. Staff at FCRCC are aware of this and so part of the training is to create familiarity around everything that the youth do. “For example,” Kat said, “The warmups are all going to be the same, whether it’s at the practices we’re doing now, or on race day.”

Learn more about how the dragon boat experience went and how the Vessi 500 Championship experience goes, by following us on on Twitter @CovenantHouseBC, on Instagram @covenanthousebc, on LinkedIn, on Facebook, and on TikTok.