Promiscuous Paddling: Dragon Boat Guest Paddling

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “paddle whore” before. I used to use the term frequently to describe my love of being a guest paddler. I make it a habit to paddle or steer wherever and whenever I can. When I travel to other cities, I contact a local team and ask to attend a practice. When other teams need extra paddlers for races and my own team isn’t entering that race or that division, I join them to compete. I’ve been fortunate to paddle in Bristol with the Bristol Empire Dragons, in Singapore with the American Dragons, in Beijing with the Beijing International Dragon Boat Team, and many other teams throughout the United States and Canada. I am not alone in this passion.

A teammate recently told me that she prefers the term “promiscuous paddling” to describe what so many of us do. Her rationale? We aren’t getting paid for the paddling we are doing with all these teams, which makes us merely promiscuous, not whorish. Good point.

And so, I decided to write about promiscuous paddling and its benefits and drawbacks.

UBC Thunder Dragon Boat Team

UBC Thunder. Photo: Ed Nguyen

What are the benefits of paddling with other teams?

Adapting to a new stroke. Working to blend in with another team’s stroke will certainly make you more aware of the components of the paddling stroke in general. Consider the differences and you may see your own team’s stroke in a whole new light. Concentrate on the entry. Examine the catch. Contemplate the exit. Analyze the recovery phase. Often, when something has become automatic to us, we take it for granted and don’t put much focus on it. We go through the motions of the technique with our muscle memory doing most of the work. Paddling with another team can turn your focus towards parts of the stroke that will likely benefit your own technique.

Understanding a different explanation of stroke mechanics. Even if your own coach explains something a million times, hearing someone else describe the exact same thing in different terms may be more effective. You might have that wonderful “aha!” moment that you have been looking for.


paddlechica Bejing steering

Steering in Beijing, 2010

Learning new drills. Your own team may be getting stagnant with its drills. Paddling with another team can give you ideas of new workouts that focus on various parts of the stroke that you can take back to your own club and share with your coach. New drills for rotation, catch, power phase, exit, etc. are always good ways to mix it up.

Seeing how other teams structure their practices. Having the opportunity to paddle with another team may give you ideas for creating a format for your own team’s practice. Perhaps you will learn new pieces to build endurance, or ways to work on race starts.

Learning new race strategies.  I’m not talking about stealing race tips, but racing with other teams will give you new ideas for race plans that you or your team might not have considered before. If a team is concerned about someone “stealing” their plans, they aren’t likely to invite you to paddle with them in the first place. For the most part, I find the dragon boat community to be very open and welcoming, so it is unlikely that you will run into a team that is overly concerned about giving away their “secrets.”

Observing the way that other teams store their boats and equipment. This may seem like a silly thing, but believe it or not you can get great ideas from other teams and their methods for storing their boats and paddling gear. You may have never even considered it, but teams who paddle on salt water store their boats quite differently than teams who paddle on fresh water. Various climates dictate whether or not the boats needs to be covered between practice sessions. Some teams keep extra paddles and PFDs for newer paddlers to use and keep them in a storage box, other teams require their paddlers to purchase all equipment. It’s always good to see the different methods that teams employ and to possibly even implement the ideas that might benefit your team.

Australian paddler visiting Miami

Australian paddler Shirleen Ho visiting Puff Dragon Boat Racing Team in Miami, Florida while on her trip to the United States. Thanks for showing your paddlechica sticker, Shirleen!

Observing team RSVP systems. Some teams use Team Snap, others use, others simply use a chain of emails to determine who will be attending practice. By spending time with another team, you will get an idea for how other clubs account for their paddlers for practice sessions. You will likely either learn a new system that you like, or you will have a new appreciation for how efficient your own team’s system is.

Widening your community of paddling friends. Having more friends is never a bad idea. The more paddling friends you have, the more it becomes like a big family reunion at festivals and races. Using Facebook or Instagram is a great way to keep in touch with all of the connections you make with paddlers all over the world.

Dragon boat friends from all over the world

Paddle friends from all over the world makes races feel like a wonderful reunion. Photo provided by Megan Kress

Learning how to blend with unfamiliar teammates. As mentioned earlier, adapting to a new stroke can be a benefit, but also learning how to paddle around those who paddle differently than you can help you become a better paddler. If you always sit in seat 5, for example, and always behind Mary Jane, you certainly aren’t getting much variation in terms of experience. It’s a good challenge for you to paddle behind and in front of someone new. Learn to work with the technique and idiosyncrasies of others so that no matter where your coach might seat you, you can still maximize your effectiveness.

What are the drawbacks of paddling with other teams?

There honestly aren’t many drawbacks, and even those listed here certainly aren’t serious enough to deter most paddlers from hopping on a boat with another team. However, they are worth being aware of and considering if you have any concerns.

Adapting to a different stroke may cause initial soreness or injuries. When your muscle memory is accustomed to a certain movement, there will certainly be some discomfort in changing that movement. If your team has more rotation in the stroke and you paddle with a team that has more of a hinge stroke, you are certainly going to feel those muscles more than you ever have before.

A vast difference in ability between you and the team. It may be that you are a significantly stronger paddler than the team, or you might be a much less experienced paddler. Either way, it is difficult to be on one end of the spectrum or the other when compared to the other paddlers on the boat. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however it might cause some frustration for you or those around you.

Your own team might be upset. This is more applicable to racing with another team rather than simply attending a practice or two while traveling. If you aren’t careful to prioritize your own team, you may create some controversy within the club. Make sure to discuss with your coach any opportunities to race with other teams. Most likely your coach will not have an issue with it, however, it is in your best interest to have your coach on board with any decisions you make concerning guest paddling.

How do you find other teams to paddle with?

If you plan to be traveling to another city, I suggest doing a Google search for a dragon boat team in the area. Most teams have web sites or a Facebook page with contact information that can easily be found. Get in touch with at least one of the teams in the area and find out their practice schedule. Hopefully you will find a team whose schedule fits with yours.

Hammerheads dragon boat team Facebook page

Facebook is a great way to connect with other teams when you travel.

Additionally, you can ask fellow paddlers on your team. It is likely you have teammates who have connections to teams in the area you are heading.

Wherever you are going, if you do choose to be a promiscuous paddler like me,  you will find yourself with friends all over the world!

Thank you to Kim for the idea for this blog post.

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10 Discussion to this post

  1. anneke says:

    I would appreciate some ideas for drills I can use for practice for our rec team.

    • Paddlechica says:

      Anneke, thanks for reading. I’m working on that as a post…it’s a very involved post, as you might imagine, as it is not easy to describe drills. Stay tuned!

  2. Anthony Scott says:

    Promiscuous paddler, that is me, (a special club) i love to race and paddle with other teams.
    Thanks for covering this in your blog.

    • Paddlechica says:

      You are the epitome of the promiscuous paddler, Anthony, and I love seeing you at every race I am ever at!

  3. Vern Kimmie says:

    I travel across Canada, and get into boats when possible. I don’t like taking a team member off a boat so I can race so I make it clear I won’t bump a regular team paddler so I get to paddle.

  4. Wendy Rose Davison says:

    Another great way to experience the world of Dragon Boats. One thing that I celebrate from being promiscuous is the warm up exercises that I learn from other clubs. Warm ups are so much more fun if you take a new move or technique back home with you to show and share. I always google the place I am intending to visit, or even stopover in on my way to an adventure, just in the hope that my few hours/days in that place will coincide with a training session of a team.
    I would never have experienced paddling in the Arafura Sea in Darwin with the Arafura Dragons if I didn’t have the nerve to email and ask for a paddle. One day I will do a Dragon Boat World Tour!

    • Paddlechica says:

      You are quite right about the warm ups, thanks for adding that in! And what an opportunity to paddle in Darwin. As always, thanks for reading!

  5. Great post.
    Thank you.

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