Top 3 Dragon Boat Myths Revealed

Written by Blake Hara, Co-Founder of Gushou

It might sound strange to some, but I am a professional dragon boat… “guy.” I would guess there are probably a few dozen of us (i.e. dragon boat professionals) in Canada. The reason I tell you this is because as a professional in the dragon boat industry I get lots of questions from lots of different teams and paddlers that cross a huge range of experience levels and abilities. Compared to some other sports, dragon boating is still quite niche so information spreads pretty fast, whether it’s right or wrong.

Which brings me to three of the most common dragon boat myths out there today.

April 4

These three myths seem to permeate all levels of the dragon boat spectrum; age, ability, and experience. With these three beauties the gloves are off and no holds are barred. They’re like brain worms and some dragon slayers just can’t seem to shake them – until now!

Dragon boat myth #1: High stroke rates make you go faster

StopwatchThe notion of more is better has been around since the beginning of time. It’s applied to pretty much everything with varied, often limited, results. Applying the idea to the paddling realm usually doesn’t hold water either – literally.

In theory, more strokes should equal greater distance covered, but even for Olympic canoers or kayakers it’s rare when the greatest number of strokes equals first place. Paddling is technical, and as such a deliberate sequence of movements is required to produce the greatest amount of force in the most efficient manner, and the optimal combination isn’t usually performed at the fastest pace. Recruiting and engaging large, core muscles is a critical first step in this process; when rushed, the result is unimpressive.

Applying this technical concept to dragon boating yields similar results. High rates don’t necessarily equal faster times. I’m not saying dragon boat teams should never race with rates above 1 stroke per second. I am saying that before targeting specific rates, coaches should target good form and recognize the rates where form declines and minimize time spent above these zones. Through consistency and repetition, and sequenced program planning and design, stroke rate thresholds will be pushed upward, and eventually higher rates become sustainable while executing proper form.

This idea of establishing technique fundamentals first, applies across all abilities and experience levels. I’ve coached teams where 63 was the threshold stroke rate and anything above produced ‘spinning’ and ‘disengaged’ stroke cycles. I’ve also coached teams where 78 was the sweet spot and anything below or above kept them off the podium.

So, myth explained, higher stroke rates can produce faster dragon boat teams IF technical fundamentals are sound and in place throughout the boat. Only then should coaches consider moving into a higher stroke rate zone. Be prepared to spend at least 4-6 weeks in lower stroke rate zones where emphasis is on form and aerobic foundation work.

Dragon boat myth #2: Stronger paddlers should be at the front of the boat

Strong manWhile there is merit in positioning stronger and more seasoned paddlers close to the front of the boat, doing so as standard operating procedure goes against the fundamental principle of our sport – TEAMWORK.

New paddlers develop faster if they are strategically positioned throughout the boat, ideally close to veteran paddlers who can answer questions or offer occasional tips (with coach approval of course). This practice will also help integrate newcomers into the crew socially. And while the musical chairs approach is great for all levels and types of crews, there does come a time when front-loading the boat has its place.

Critical races or pre-race practices are the most obvious situations where front-loading is acceptable; mainly because of minimized interference from out of sync newcomers. But remember that the more options coaches have in terms of line-ups the stronger and more versatile the crew becomes, so I encourage coaches to give newcomers a chance near the front of the boat, they might just surprise you!

Dragon boat myth #3: Paddle size matters, bigger is better

Paddle lengthThink of your paddle as your weapon and being able to effectively handle and manipulate your weapon is critical. Anything less will produce a vulnerable chink in your team’s dragon armour.

Too long and you risk falling behind. Too short and your stroke becomes circular and disengaged. Get it right and you’re on your way to victory – or at least closer to victory. Feel free to use the five points below if you’re ever in a position where you need to deconstruct the paddle length myth to a fellow teammate; stick to the facts, the truth should eventually prevail.

  1. Predominant moving parts in dragon boating are above the waist which is why paddle length is relative to the combined length of the torso and arms; and not a person’s height.
  2. There is a cost to the extra reach born from a paddle that is (too) long; usually it’s a sloppy, delayed finish.
  3. Longer paddles can produce increased positive angles at the catch but positive angles are only as good as what’s backing them up. I’d take a core-engaged neutral (90°) catch any day over an artificial hyper-positive (135°) catch.
  4. Weight transfer occurs when the top arm drives down during water phase. If the paddle is too long the top hand stays high during this phase. The result is weight and power that stays inside the boat instead of being transferred to paddle and generating force and propulsion.
  5. Paddles that are too long place increased stress on top shoulders and can result in injury.

There will always be new information for you to take in as a dragon boater. While it can be a challenge to figure out what’s right and what should be corrected, there are always veterans in the community who can help figure things out.

If you’re looking to connect with the broader dragon boat community, be sure to set up a profile on Gushou! It’s a great place for individual paddlers to connect with prospective teams or for teams to recruit new paddlers.

6 Steps To Starting a Dragon Boat Team

by Chrissy Wessman, Co-Founder of Gushou

You’ve made the decision to start a dragon boat team. Fantastic. Now, where to start?

From recruitment, to scheduling, budgeting, building consensus, and sharing important information, you’ve committed to a plethora of tasks on top of your already busy life. Remember to take things one step at a time and you’ll be successful. If you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t forget, it’s all worth it because, quite literally, you are helping to change people’s lives for the better.

Here are six steps to follow to help you build the dragon boat team of your dreams.

Step one: Recruit, recruit, recruit

Do you have enough paddlers to create a team? This can be the hardest part of your job but if you can find 20 paddlers, you’ve done the hard part. Build a story around paddling, how it’s inclusive, fun, and doesn’t require any previous skills. It’s going to be the time of their lives.

A great place to start is to ask your work colleagues or friends to join you. Sara Tong, captain of the top tier Toronto team MOFOs says, “Social media and word of mouth referrals to us tend to happen quite often. My advice for new teams would be to start within your social circles – you may never know who might be interested in paddling if you don’t put it out there!”

It’s not only about finding any human being to fill a spot. It’s important to find paddlers that will fit your team’s culture. Are you starting a fun loving and social team or is it going to be a competitive team where everyone is expected to cross train and run 5km every day? Make sure you articulate the type of team you are recruiting for. This will set expectations early and help you avoid future disappointment.

Tong, discusses how important the ‘right fit’ is to the MOFOs, “We put a lot of thought into how we build and foster our team culture… Fitness and paddling ability are important of course, but what we look for in potential recruits are people who will gel well with our team dynamic first and foremost… From a recruiting perspective, we want to make sure the personalities that we attract reflect the good humour and cultural norms of the team.”

Step two: Pick a race 

You have some team members now set your goal. There are over 250 events in North America. If you’re a new team, it’s probably easiest to get buy-in from your team members for a local race that hosts other beginner teams. Events typically run one or two days long and may include family fun activities, a beer garden, or even a marketplace of local vendors. Choose an event that will excite your team and will meet your budget requirements. Sometimes a smaller ask the first year will make it easier for people to commit. Of course, if you feel that you can pull off the grandiose event, go for it, it’ll be a blast and very memorable.

To find events, you can use Google, advice from local club administrators, or even the Gushou Event List (try the advanced search options). If you don’t see something there, let your events know to get on Gushou.

Quick tip: The earlier you sign up the better. Many events offer an early-bird discount.

Step three: Schedule your practices

You have a goal, now it’s time to prepare – and practise makes perfect. Find a local dragon boat club or if the event you have signed up for offers practices, make sure to take advantage of these practices. Every practice you can do will help you enjoy race day even more. Dragon boating is the ultimate team sport, it requires the team to be in synch and this is accomplished through practising the same technique and doing it together over and over.

As a beginner team, if you can get 6-10 practices in before your races, you’ll be feeling ‘ready ready’ on race day. (that’s dragon boat lingo!)

Find an ‘available’ day and time (check with club/event) that works for most people on your team and book your practices. Some captains use tools such as Google Forms, Doodle, or Survey Monkey, to name a few.

Step four: Find a coach

Finding a coach can make all the difference to your team’s success. (a topic that can fill many blogs on its own). Similar to finding team members, you need to find a coach that is the right ‘fit’. Does your coach have the technical expertise, enthusiasm, and genuine interest in seeing your team improve and reach its goals? There are many good coaches but their styles of coaching can vary. Do you want a charismatic and enthusiastic coach that will focus on positive feedback or are you looking for the militaristic approach of a coach that pushes you to your limits and instills fear in each and every person? Of course, these are two extremes but preferences range and it is important to find a coach that will make your team thrive. When you do hire a coach, make sure to set expectations and goals for the season.

Step five: Enlist help

From registrations, budgeting, and collecting payments, to ordering racing shirts and organizing pot-lucks, there will be a of things to fill up your time so it’s wise to enlist the help of other eager team members. Often, teams will build a team committee that will be responsible for the administrative tasks of the team. This will make your life easier and also streamline the experience for everyone.

Step six: You’re ready! Have fun and enjoy being a part of this wonderful community!

You’re now part of an incredible community. Enjoy the experience and connect with other teams and paddlers to enrich it even more.

Happy paddling!

If you’re looking for a great way to help you organize yourself as a team captain, make sure you check out Gushou’s team organization platform. We’re about to launch some pretty mind-blowing features, so be sure to sign up!

Gushou July 2016 Newsletter

What’s been going on at Gushou you ask? Check out Gushou’s latest Newsletter!

Hello Gushou Users & Friends,

Hope your dragon boat season is going well or if you’re done for 2016, that it went amazingly well! We want to thank you for using Gushou and being with us through our first major launch of the platform. We have been hard at work fine-tuning the next Gushou phase and look forward to rolling out improvements to existing features and new features that will make your dragon boat lives even more enjoyable!
We hope you like our new Gushou ‘Paddler Spotlights’ on social media and had a chance to see Gushou the Dragon at the Mississauga Dragon Boat Festival, Toronto International Dragon Boat Festival or other great events.

In this issue you will find the following:

  • Our Founders are in the News!
  • User Survey – help shape the future of dragon boat and win a t-shirt!
  • Paddler Spotlights
  • Gushou Team Appreciation Party
  • Support Us on Indiegogo
  • Team Captain Focus Group
  • Raffle Results
  • Meet Our Mascot
  • Gushou Promotional Videos

Happy Paddling!! – The Gushou Team
twitter_gushouindigogo2 (1)

If you love sports, travel, and being the centre of attention, then this opportunity is for you! Gushou is making a splash in the global dragon boat community and we’re looking for someone who can embody the energy of the brand as our mascot. You’ll be engaging the dragon boat community by building hype at festivals and regattas and helping with team fundraisers.

We want to see if you’ve got what it takes to help build a loyal base of fans for Gushou! Create a video showcasing your personality and talent and post it to our Facebook page. The entrant whose video gets the most likes and positive reactions will get the gig!

You must be between 5’8” – 6’!

PaddleCore Dragon Final Design Orange Shirt SWD Blue (2)

Job Title: Gushou Mascot
Location: Toronto / GTA
Certifications/Education: No formal training necessary
Necessary Skills: Entertainment without words / Outgoing / Friendly
Pay: Part-time ($16.50/hr)
– Help with fan loyalty and team spirit
– Help increase awareness of the Gushou platform
– Engage with the dragon boat community at the Festivals and help fundraise for their causes
– Willing to travel to the US if necessary

Gushou and Usability Matters

What is Gushou?

The word itself means “drummer” in Chinese. In dragon boat, the drummer creates a pulse, or heartbeat, for paddlers to follow. As an intuitive online platform, Gushou will be the pulse of the international dragon boat community. This concept was created by Usability Matters, a Toronto-based firm. Chrissy Wessman and Blake Hara teamed up with Usability Matters to collectively develop “a system of web-based tools to help organize teams, paddlers, and events – as well as an exciting new brand to promote this growing sport.” You can read more about Usability Matters’ Gushou experience by clicking here!

As founders of the Sunnyside Paddling Club- home to more than four thousand paddlers-
Wessman and Hara understood the need for organization in dragon boat events and activities. “We chose to work with Usability Matters because we wanted our users to be at the heart of [Gushou’s] design,” says Wessman, “We wanted to make this website as easy and enjoyable an experience for everyone.” 

Usability Matters guided Wessman and Hara through the process of developing Gushou and its many tools while maintaining the idea of a user-friendly and simple design. On top of being ideal for paddlers seeking a trusted, universal source of information, the Usability Matters team ensured it’s a website easy to navigate.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 9.03.20 PMSo what can Gushou offer? Gushou is the one-stop shop to all things dragon boating. At, one can register as a paddler, team captain, or event organizer. As an individual paddler, users can upload a short biography, level of experience, location, and search for teams to join.

Team captains can use Gushou to organize their crew lists before practice, register their teams for events, and even explore different line-ups!

Gushou is the future of dragon boat organization. It takes away time spent collecting waivers, managing teams, paddlers, and events, and allows everyone to focus on what they enjoy doing: being on the water!



Dr. Howard Chen: Six questions with a world-known dragon boat philanthropist

“Dragon boat is a very unique sport…. [if] dragon boat lovers unite together, it will be the major sport in the future.”
– Dr Howard Chen

Dr. Howard Chen was introduced to dragon boat in 1995, after helping a friend of his fill boats for a festival. A year later Dr. Chen was approached again to start a new dragonboat
company. Wanting to work as a non-profit corporation but interested in the world of dragonboat, Dr. Chen created his own club out of Long Beach. With the help from the Lions Club and companies of friends, he acquired eight dragonboats to start his new club’s season in 1997. Dr Chen is currently the President of the International Collegiate Dragonboat Federation (ICDBF).

1. What are some of the most important dragonboat initiatives that you have led or been a part of? Dragonboat sports promotion is very difficult. It took the Chinese 2450 years and it’s still not very popular! Dragonboat needs a lot of money and man power to keep the sport going forward- it’s really charity work, and if you don’t get involved and lead EVERYTHING by yourself it will not survive. The sport runs so well in Toronto- it’s a miracle… and a group of crazy hard workers.

2. You have been involved with dragonboat at all levels, locally, nationally and internationally. You also have experience with small, locally run and government driven events. What are some of the challenges you see? This sport is very unique, but it doesn’t really have a fixed formula to copy. Every race and every day I see new issues and challenges. Continue reading “Dr. Howard Chen: Six questions with a world-known dragon boat philanthropist”

Blog at

Up ↑