Dragon boaters paddle with high-tech advantage

Gorging Dragons coach Tom Arnold

Gorging Dragons coach Tom Arnold


Fundraising, team registration gears up for 17th annual festival

As dragon boat teams train for Victoria’s annual August festival, they’ll have the opportunity to improve their stroke with some high-tech gear.

The Merlin Excalibur paddle contains four sensors which record both the position and force of its user’s stroke. Simply unscrew a metal cap along the paddle’s shaft to reveal a USB port to transfer the data to a computer.

“It provides numbers and graphs and all kinds of feedback on the stroke.” said Tom Arnold, coach of the Gorging Dragons, the festival’s flagship team.

“It’s such an important coaching tool for paddlers at any level but particularly for newer paddlers to understand … what position you need to be in and how to use your body to make the boat go forward,” he said.

The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival Society purchased the $3,500 Merlin for the Gorging Dragons who conduct training clinics for more than half of the teams on the South Island.

“The festival is really the only organization on the Island that supports dragon boating at all levels,” Arnold said.

The fancy paddle isn’t the only new feature of this year’s Canada Dry Victoria Dragon Boat Festival, running Aug. 12 to 14 at Ship Point.

This year, the society has hired a professional race management company from Vancouver.

“There’s going to be emphasis on quicker race results … that can get posted over Twitter,” said society chair Mark Grey-Dreaper.

“We’ve always had a volunteer group of race management officials and they’ve done a great job. The sport keeps evolving and you want to keep up.”

So far, 59 dragon boat teams have signed up, but expect between 80 and 90 teams to register from all over the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

On Aug. 13, more than 2,000 participants of every skill level compete together, from beginner teams to international-caliber teams like the Gorging Dragons.

On Aug. 14, teams are grouped based on skill level.

“It’s an exciting venue … because all day long you’ll have these tight competitive races at every level,” said Arnold.

As for the elite paddling class, Arnold said a couple of teams will likely give the Gorging Dragons a run for their money this year, including Portland’s Kaiikaika team.

These days, the Gorging Dragons are training for a July race to win a spot at the 2012 Club Crew World Championships in Hong Kong.

“Like no other sport (dragon boat racing) is a complete team sport,” said Arnold.

“The boats are so big and so heavy, it really takes 20 people working in unison to make the boats go. There’s a magical moment that you sometimes get in a dragon boat race when you’re feeling the energy off all the other paddlers in the boat and everybody’s perfectly in sync.”

When this happens, the boat lifts slightly out of the water, he explained. “It’s like this charge of electricity.”