Dragon Boat: 7 Lessons Learnt

Upon returning from the United Kingdom two years ago, I was keen to be involved in a sport that would demand my fitness level be improved, discipline developed and endurance challenged. I have previously heard of the KL Barbarians through some mutual friends, and decided to try it out at one of their introduction sessions in July 2015 just to appease my curiosity. Needless to say, I got hooked on it and three seasons later, I’m still paddling with the KL Barbarians and loving every moment of it!

Photo by KL Barbarians

I would have to admit that my dragon boat experience with the KL Barbarians is still at its infancy stage, compared to my teammates, some of whom has been with the team since its inception. Nevertheless, fast forward 1 ½ years and (only) five dragon boat races later, here are several lessons that this sport has taught me:

1. In life, you will always need cheerleaders

Photo by KL Barbarians

We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders in a race. No matter what the outcome of a race is, we encourage and cheer each other on because at the end of the day, we are a #dragonboatfamily. Family stick together, and this means no one gets left behind. Teamwork is an underlying theme in this sport, also commonly said to be the fastest growing sport in the world, because there is no space for any particular individual to shine. As a family, we paddle our hardest, cheer our loudest and make every race count!

2. Always communicate

Photo by Passion Portraits

We are only ever as fast as our slowest paddler. It’s important to communicate our team strategy, strengths and weaknesses to the entire boat, from the front to the back. Improvement in terms of paddling technique, strength, leg drive, hinging forward, digging deeper has to be a collective effort between the team mates. Communication is essential so that everyone is on the same page and we are able to keep up and be fully synchronised to ensure continual improvement with every drill.

3. Own up to your mistakes

Photo by KL Barbarians

In a full boat, we paddle as a team of 22. After every set of drills, the pacers will ask the paddlers in the boat for their feedback on that particular set. If you made a “mistake” such as losing count, not being able to catch up with the pace or did not give your 100% effort which may have affected that drill overall, own up to it. This applies to whether you are a pacer, steerer, paddler or drummer. Doing so involves a lot of humility, but it teaches us how to take responsibility for our actions, which will effectively affect the whole boat. At the end of the day, this sport is all about team work and how we can help support each other become a better paddler/steerer/drummer/pacer.

4. Keep your head in the game

Photo by KL Barbarians

During a race, there will be plenty of commotion around us. Our competitors will be lining up their boats next to ours, the linesman will be calling out and the commentator will be giving live commentary about the race over the microphone. Nevertheless, it’s our duty to keep focused and not let the distractions cloud our mind or hinder us from giving our 110% in our respective race. From the moment you step into the boat and easy paddle to the starting line, your head should always be on your boat. Stay focused on your own boat and keep your head in the game.

5. Buck up on fitness

Photo by KL Barbarians

Before dragon boating, I was just a slightly taller-than-average Asian girl, who had no muscle or endurance. Now, I endeavour to be the girl who is fit, healthy and wouldn’t mind walking or running the extra mile without losing my breath. Training time in the boat is just as important as training time out of the boat. For 2017, we have been challenged by our Team Captain to “raise our game”. This involves making an effort to do something (anything!) that will ensure we raise our game for the coming season. Whether it is to eat cleaner, wake up earlier to squeeze in a morning run before work, add an extra 5 seconds on the planking exercise, add an extra kg to the weights or do 2 extra sit ups for the physical assessments. Collectively, these efforts will ensure our fitness level as a team will be raised a notch higher!

6. Fostering discipline in my personal life

Photo by KL Barbarians

Sometimes I think that my team mates and I are crazy for waking up at 6am every Saturday morning and drive 26.8 km to Putrajaya Marina for a 3-hour paddling session under the sun. More often than not, it is easier to hit the snooze button, roll over, give ourselves excuses to stay in bed and go back to sleep. But through dragon boating, I’ve always been reminded about the importance to be disciplined – for your sake and the sake of the team. Our team recently started a policy of imposing 5 burpees for the entire team, for any one person who arrives after 8am for the training. There were weeks where we ended up doing 40 burpees as a team because 8 people arrived 5 minutes past 8am! Ultimately, the desire for improvement is what keeps us going!

7. The hundreds of hours of drills will be distilled into a 30 second to 1 minute of race in a competition

Photo by KL Barbarians

At the start of every season, our coaches will highlight and identify the dragon boat competitions that we intend to take part in for the upcoming season. The months preceding that will be spent performing hours and hours of drills to build up and improve our technique, endurance, strength and sprint. All of which, will be distilled into a 30 second to 1 minute of 100 metres or 250 metres race set! This is why it’s important to make every stroke count!

The KL Barbarians are having our bi-annual Introduction session on 15, 21 and 22 January 2017. Details are as follows:

Photo by KL Barbarians

Come and join us to try out this sport for yourself!

All photos in this article are property of KL Barbarians unless credited otherwise.


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Sarah is a young lawyer by profession but a wanderer at heart. She is navigating through this strange and unpredictable journey called “adulthood” while dreaming happily about the seas yet to sail and mountains yet to climb. When she is not in court or in the office, she can be found paddling with her favourite dragonboat team, the KL Barbarians. She loves nothing more than conversations over a hot cup of matcha latte and believes in finding beauty in the brokenness.

Posted on 13 January 2017. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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7 Responses to Dragon Boat: 7 Lessons Learnt

  1. From these lessons I have been able to know about many new things that are new for me. There are many new things in this post which I have been wondering to know about from a while.

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  3. Tuhin39

    Glad to see you again. Your fitness works are totally different from others. That’s why I’m a regular follower of you from then when I heard about you from my Escorts Moscow as they are regular follower of you. Dragon boat is really enjoyable game and physical exercise together. This action made me more fit than before and I get extra energy at the time of working. Great job by you really.

  4. Salim25

    That's great !!

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