11 Ways to Take Care of Your Dragon Boating Habit

Montana Dragon Boat Festival Flathead Lake


So, you’ve found yourself wonderfully addicted to dragon boating. Welcome to the club. It’s an excellent group made up of athletic, competitive individuals who enjoy the challenge of a sport that takes weeks to learn and years to master. No matter where you are in your paddling career, you can benefit from these helpful reminders of ways to take care of your paddling obsession.

1) Do Your Homework

Thought you outgrew homework when you graduated? Not so. Learning is a lifelong process. We don’t grow if we aren’t learning and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to dragon boating. Seek out opportunities to learn more about how to move a boat faster on the water. Attend clinics or camps, read articles, watch videos, paddle with other teams when you travel,  talk to fellow paddlers. However, it is important that you are discerning. Don’t just assume that everyone else knows more than you. Take in the information and analyze whether or not it fits with your team’s stroke and your goals.

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Outer Harbour Premier Women at the GWN Challenge. Photo: Anne Zeng

2) Get Enough Sleep

Most of us aren’t 20 anymore. We can’t stay up all hours of the night and expect to have a productive practice the next morning. If you are dragging yourself to a training session, chances are you’ll be dragging the boat down. That doesn’t benefit anyone. Your body needs to rest and recharge. Give it time to do that. Make sleep a priority.

3) Exercise Off the Boat

I can’t stress this enough. On-water practices a few times per week just isn’t enough to keep you competitive in the boat. Find what motivates you and get some exercise off the boat. Run, swim, bike, attend bootcamp or Crossfit classes. Mix it up. Strengthen your muscles and your cardio. Challenge yourself. Your training will get stagnant if you stick with the same routine.

4) Fuel Your Body Properly

I’m sure we’ve all been there. You binge-eat on pizza the night before a practice and you feel every ounce of that pizza the next day. Everyone has their nemesis. For me it’s sugar. I can’t eat sugar when I’m training or I will feel absolutely awful the entire practice. As much as I love desserts, it’s just not worth it. Find out what food works for you and what doesn’t. Make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet to make sure your muscles are replenished after your workout. Take care of your body. Feed it with what fuels you well and avoid what doesn’t.

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Outer Harbour Senior Women at GWN Challenge. Photo: Anne Zeng

5) Take a Break

I began my paddling career in South Florida. I had no idea what “time off the boat” was because we never had to worry about cold weather that would keep us off the water. Now that I’ve been training in Toronto, I understand the value of the training cycle, which has a break naturally built into the year. Regattas are in full swing in the late spring through summer and the teams are training hard for their races. At the end of summer and into early fall, if a team has been working hard, they should be ready for a brief time off before the heavier winter training season to prepare for the following spring. But what if you find that your body needs a break sooner?

Listen to your body. Occasionally you may need to take a day off practice or time in the gym in order to rest your body to be ready for the next training session. I’m not suggesting that you should skip practice every Thursday. And I’m certainly not saying that you should take a break from practice because you drank yourself silly the night before. I’m pointing out that once in a while, if your body is not holding up at practice or not up to par in the gym some nights, it may be telling you it needs a break due to over-training. Listen to it. You will be better off in the long run.

6) Hydrate

I never thought I had issues with dehydration until I finally became properly hydrated. What a difference it made. Dehydration negatively affects your performance for so many reasons. It can cause muscle cramping and reduce overall endurance and strength. The challenge? You don’t actually feel thirsty until you are already dehydrated. So be preemptive about it and make sure to properly hydrate, especially the day before a race. And often, water isn’t enough. Products like Vega Sport Hydrator and Accelerade are great ways to enhance your hydration.

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Save Our Sisters at GWN Challenge. Photo: Anne Zeng

7) Bond With Your Team

Socialize. Get to know your teammates and coach. A strong team has a solid bond where teammates know they’ve got each others’ backs. The bonding that goes on off the boat at social activities is often a great way to make connections with your teammates.

From my personal experience I can tell you that these social opportunities are great ways for the new paddlers on the team to feel included. Earlier in the season, our club’s premier and senior women’s teams had a fun evening of team bonding with some hilariously creative games designed by Marianne, one of the paddlers on our sister team. One game was a multiple choice quiz with questions like, “What is Coach Chris’s pet peeve?” and “What is Chris’s favorite fast food?” Another game she created was based on Scattergories. It was a night full of laughs, and we learned a lot about our coach and our teammates while creating wonderful team bonds.

8) Learn to Paddle Other Types of Boats

Your paddling will only improve as you develop and master your connection to the water. Learn how to paddle an outrigger canoe. Try a stand up paddleboard (SUP). Give a surfski a try. There are many different types of boats and watercraft you can learn to paddle, and while the strokes might be a bit different, the goal is the same: to go fast on the water.

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OC 6 race in Ventura. Photo: Chris Silvester

9) Care for Your Body

It may seem like an indulgence, but it is crucial to take care of your muscles. Physiotherapy will look after those aches and pains to help you keep your form and strengthen your paddling endurance. Getting a massage will help loosen up those tight spots that limit your mobility. Take the time to care for your body. It is the engine that drives the boat.

10) Have the Right Gear

Purchasing proper attire for all weather conditions will make your practice sessions more comfortable. When it’s cold outside, without the right clothing you’ll be miserable and your muscles will be tight. NRS makes some excellent paddling gear for colder weather. I LOVE my Hydroskin pants from NRS because they have kept me from freezing during those cold spring and fall practices. They are available in women’s and men’s sizes. If you are like me and have a sensitive rear end, having a butt pad that is in good shape is essential. My Dragon Saddle keeps my posterior happy. Replace old shorts, shoes, gloves, or whatever gear you need to allow yourself to focus on your training instead of any discomfort you may feel from your gear or lack thereof.

11) Take Photos

I’m sure you weren’t expecting this one. And let’s clarify that there is a time and a place for taking photos. It should go without saying that during practices you shouldn’t be playing photographer while your teammates are paddling their guts out. And you should never, ever interrupt practices for photo-taking. However, having photos from various dragon boat races and events to look back on and “remember when” is always a good way to remind yourself of where you were and how far you’ve come.

In addition, I frequently use photos and videos that others have taken to analyze body mechanics. I watch paddlers who I want to emulate. If the photos or video are of my team, I look at my reach, my paddle angle, my rotation, my arm position, even my head position. I check to see that I’m blending with the team and the paddlers around me, and if I’m not, I try to determine what I need to do in order to get there.

Don’t fight your addiction to dragon boating. Accept it, cultivate it, encourage it. It’s a wonderful community to belong to. Take care of yourself and your dragon boating habit and hopefully you’ll be on the water for many, many years.

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8 Discussion to this post

  1. Anthony Scott says:

    Another good read, thanks Kristin.

  2. Mick says:

    Top read and relevant to all forms of paddling

    Thanks for Posting

  3. Jim Farintosh says:

    I enjoy your articles, Kristin.

    Another habit I would encourage paddlers to cultivate is keep a diary of their training and progress. It serves both as daily motivation and solidifies yearly commitment to achieving your goals. It also can offer a backward glance at your program when things go well (or poorly)…lessons learned both ways.

    It doesn’t have to be long, just a brief summary of what you did and how you felt. It takes a bit of discipline, but pays dividends, I believe.

    • Paddlechica says:

      Excellent suggestion, Jim! Thanks for reading, and for your comments. It’s always great to have more suggestions to add to the list!

  4. Patricia Campbell says:

    Hi Kristin. I just came across your blog. Been reading your past posts as well as the more current ones. I’m new to paddling (only about 2 months) but I love it! Our first race was postponed because of rough water and I’m looking forward to the rescheduled race. Loving the posts and especially the article about 11 ways to take care of your dragon boating habit. Thanks so much! Informative and fun reading

    • Paddlechica says:

      Patricia, thanks so much for your message and for reading the posts. I appreciate your kind words. Best of luck in your upcoming race!

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