One baby boomer always on the lookout for something new is Diane Owens of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Last time she wrote for BoomerCafé, she had just tried Polga — call it pole dancing with a purpose. This time, it’s Dragon Boating. And she has written about it in the hope that if it’s available where you live, you’re next.
I recently registered with the Charleston Paddle Club meet-up group and joined some members of the local dragon boat team for an hour-long morning practice session on the Ashley River. (Members compete in regional events, and their practice sessions are open to novices.)
Several people gave me pointers, loaned me a “splash jacket,” and off we went.
Sitting side by side on benches in a very long, narrow, canoe-like wooden boat, everyone plunges a paddle in the water and strokes continuously to one side— right or left (depending on where they are seated).
As we paddle in cadence using quick, efficient strokes, the boat slides through the water.
After half an hour, everyone switches places with the person next to them (and happily, the boat doesn’t overturn!) to paddle with the other arm.
A steersman sits in the back of the boat and uses a rudder to guide it while the person in front of him counts strokes aloud.
But I don’t dare take my eyes off my paddle to turn around and actually watch what they are doing.
A helpful member tells me that if even one person is “off,” it messes up the synchronization (no pressure there!), so you really need to focus and keep up — although you can simply take your paddle out of the water any time you get out of sync or need a break.
While you’d think dragon boating would take a lot of arm and shoulder strength, the paddlers’ power actually comes from their core.
To paddle with your left arm, you brace one foot on a metal rod on the floor and turn slightly toward the center of the boat— then lean forward, hold your arms nearly straight out in front, rotate your torso to the left, insert the paddle in the water, pull it back, turn back to the center and repeat.
While it was intense exercise and I could feel it some in my arms and shoulders while we were paddling, surprisingly enough, they didn’t ache at all afterwards since the energy was coming primarily from the center of my body. (My midsection, however, was a different story; it was sore for days! I now definitely know where my core is.)
It was an extremely cool experience to be part of a friendly group of people paddling as a single unit and enjoying the beautiful morning on the water together. I do some kayaking, but this was fun in a completely different way.
Can’t wait to get out and paddle on the river again!