Starting a new sport is always fun and exciting, if not a little nerve-racking. Firstly, there is everyone’s names to learn (no mean feat with a dragon boat team!), coaches giving you constant reminders about your technique, trying to keep up with your new team mates, worries over whether you are fit enough, wondering if you will get in the race boat (and if you will keep it together for your team if you do) and most exciting of all, working out what kit to buy. I’ve learnt a lot in 9 years of paddling but there a few things I wish I knew from the start…
1. Everyone else is trying to think about 500 things at once too
Even after 9 years and having paddled all over the world, with lots of different crews, I still have to concentrate on what I am doing. Yes of course, over time it does click into place, and yes you have a certain amount of muscle memory, but to be a great paddler, the key is to concentrate and think about what you are doing. Trust me when I say, your coach is sick of repeating themselves over and over again, and they can tell if you are paying attention!
2. Listen to your coach and try not to pay attention too much to your team mates
Every one will want to help you learn to be the best paddler you can be. But, unsolicited advice is often not that helpful and they may not be showing you correctly. Whatever people say to you either, try to ignore it, or speak to your coach. But don’t be put off or overwhelmed by your team mates trying to ‘help’ you. It is just that. They want to help. But not all advice is so good advice. If it gets a bit overwhelming it might be worth speaking to the coach and asking them to politely mention it to your new, very helpful friends.
3. Don’t waste your money on too much fancy kit.
Often you can pick up a decent used paddle on ebay for not a huge amount of money. See if you team mates will let you use any old or spare paddles they have so you can try out a few different makes, they may even have one for sale. You may want to invest in a seat pad, especially if you have a delicate bottom or you team particularly like long training sessions. Come winter, you will probably want a pogie or some gloves. Other than that, you will pick bits up as you go along. Your basics can be purchase used or new from about £120 for all three. A brand-new paddle will set you back a bit more, but there really is no need to go spend £300 on paddle when you are just starting out.
4. Some complementary land-based training will help, but nothing will really substitute for being in the boat
It may sound obvious, but the best way to be fit and ready for the boat is to be in the boat. Most serious DBer’s do some cross training; running, cycling and swimming are good cardio and weight-based training is helpful and good for your overall health. But the best way to practice your technique and train the muscles you need for paddling is to be at training as often as your time will allow.
5. Don’t wait to be prepared for racing – because you probably never will be
Dragon boat racing is the most fun! In honesty, I can barely remember my first race. But I remember how I felt before it. I barely slept I was so excited, and I was so nervous on the start line. It seemed to go in a complete blur. There are only a few races that I remember specifically. Some I remember for the result but more often I remember them for how they made me feel. Just go for it and try to not let your nerves get the better of you!
6. Remember to breath!
Its sounds silly and kind of obvious but breathing is easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. I still forget to breath even now. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a breath in the first 10 strokes of race! The adrenaline gets the better of me and I just end up holding my breath, even though I know better. But if you don’t remember to breath everything else is going to be a whole lot harder.