Paddles Up!

The biggest financial commitment you can make to dragon boating is buying your own paddle. That is unless you decide to buy your own boat.

There aren’t a lot of dragon boat superstores. Nor is there a dragon boat section at REI or even West Marine. So dragon boat vendors make the rounds of the various races during race season. And off season, they reach out to teams or coaches who run clinics.

The Alameda DragonFlyers own an assortment of paddles (they come in different lengths), but they are standard wooden paddles that are much heavier than the spiffy carbon fiber or hybrid versions out there. And the time had come that I wanted my own paddle.

Conveniently, a paddle manufacturer showed up one day at one of our early season practices. I had experimented with different sizes and settled on a 46-inch. There was a wide selection paddle types – well, three to be exact, but it felt like a lot. I settled on the Crossfire, with a carbon fiber blade, but a fiberglass shaft. The fiberglass shaft provides more flexibility which seemed like a good idea. It was also the cheapest, but still over $200.

I continued to make due with the garden kneeler as a butt pad. Dragon boats have wooden or fiberglass benches, and I don’t have much natural cushioning. The garden kneeler works well because it’s the right depth for the bench, and you can slide the handle over the shaft of your paddle making it easy to carry.

But before too long the garden kneeler failed me. On a particularly slippery bench it slid out from under me, and I tumbled backwards off the bench. The good news in this case was that I was in the back row, so I didn’t land in anyone’s lap. But I did get to ride out the rest of the “race piece” in this rather unbecoming position.

Another key piece of dragon boat equipment is paddling gloves. Once again, these are not dragon boat specific. The shafts of the paddle get wet and slippery, so gloves help you keep your grip. They also provide a little protection when you bang your thumb against the gunwale. I started with boating gloves from trusty West Marine. But these started to fail because they are not meant to be in the actual water.

Another strategy to improve your grip is the use of grip tape. This is a dragon boat specific product and is sold by the paddle companies. I resisted the idea of grip tape because I didn’t want to mar the simplicity of the new paddle. Also, there is an art to applying the stuff, and I didn’t want to make hash of it.

But at our next big race I invested in a foam contoured butt pad, a pair of paddling gloves (thanks to the popularity of stand up paddle boarding these are easy to find), a tip guard for the paddle, and I even let the paddle vendor apply grip tape. All these items, except the gloves, were reddish in color to coordinate with my orange/purple paddling wardrobe.