The occasional droplet of water flies into the air as the North Esk Dragon Boat club’s vessel glides across the Tamar River in Launceston in preparation for the upcoming dragon boat festival.
Story and pictures: Fred Hooper
One of the paddlers David Maloney was on the water for only the second time but already thought it was the perfect sport for him.
“I’m at the age where you start looking at your weight and I thought it would be a great way to do some exercise without putting a lot of unneeded pressure on my knees,” Mr Maloney said.
Dragon boating may not be the average weekend sport — Mr Maloney said he had previously associated it with fundraising events and organisations.
“[You just have to] stop trying to think too much about what you’re meant to be doing and just get into a good rhythm,” he said.
“After some really good practice, you know what you are doing. I think that is going to be really crucial to a fast crew.”
As the boat made its way up the Tamar River into the South Esk, the sweep on board the boat was constantly instructing the crew as they rowed.
Coach and sweep for the club, Paul Van Nynanten, was used to being on the water.
“Having spent a lot of my time as a child canoeing and then later in life in sailing boats and motor boats, I’m quite water-wise and know the ropes so to speak,” Mr Van Nynanten said.
While his canoeing background helped him with some aspects of dragon boating, other things were slightly different.
“The stroke in a dragon boat is very short. We have 20 people in a 12 metre boat so we’re very close together,” Mr Van Nynanten said.
When up and running, the arms and bodies inside the boat seemed to hit the perfect rhythm, making the landscape move by quickly and smoothly.
“Dragon boating is a different sport to try,” Mr Van Nynanten said.
“It’s the ultimate team game you could say, with 20 people all paddling at the same time, at the same rate, all in the same boat together and just having fun.”
For a short period of time someone sat at the front of the boat with a large wooden drum, creating an audible rhythm which the crew used to keep in stroke.
“It’s something that goes back to the origins of dragon boating in China,” fellow crew member Kim Pinner said.
“That’s a part of the legend — it’s to help keep in time and it also builds that whole mystic about dragon boat paddling.”
Ms Pinner found the sport through a friend and said it helped her with some old injuries.
“I’ve had a couple of spinal surgeries and because of the type of exercise that’s involved and the way that you paddle, it actually builds the core of your large back muscles and it helps to support,” Ms Pinner said.
Another crew member who was reasonably new to the sport was Vicki Whitney who said it was not simply getting out on the water which attracted her.
“I had seen it from across the river when I was at the port having a coffee and I thought ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’,” Ms Whitney said.
“The people are great. It’s very rare you meet a heap of nice people.
“When you find your rhythm, it’s easier, that’s for sure, but to get that rhythm and keep it going is hard.”
Still classifying herself as a beginner or learner, Ms Whitney said she was not yet at the stage where she could completely relax in the dragon boat.
“I’m focused on what I’m doing at the moment because I’m learning,” she said.
“I’m not game to think of anything else, I’ll be out of stroke.”
The Dragon Boat Festival will be held on 14 and 15 November at the North Esk Rowing Club, Lindsay Street, Launceston.