Dragon Boating – Stroke Techniques

In this chapter, we will discuss the playing techniques used in Dragon Boating. Before you learn the various stroking techniques, position yourself firmly on the boat. Firmly pin to the side of the boat. Keep your back straight and slightly lean forward and outward. Brace your outboard foot on the foot hold present on the floor. Learning it early is wise because with more improvement, you can use your whole body to paddle it. To grasp the paddle, keep your inside hand on the paddle and your outside hand on the shaft.

There are six basic elements of the stroke and they are −

  • Reach
  • Catch
  • Drive
  • Pull
  • Recovery
  • Rotation

Let’s discuss each of these basic elements in a bit more detail.


This position is also known as Paddles Up position. Length of the stroke is determined by this position. If the length is more then it indicates that more water is pulled. This is basically an extended position where paddle is few inches above the water level before driving the boat into the water.


Forward extension of the outside shoulder should be done and should also be dropped slightly. Just like punching in karate, your outside arm should be straight. When the paddle enters the water, the torso is twisted forward. While doing so the natural unwinding action of the torso may lift up your seat. Bottom arm is extended to straight forward positioned being parallel to the water. Locking at the elbow should be done for the lower arm. The position of your top hand should be about at the height of your forehead and should be outside the boat.


In this position, the paddle first crushes into the water. Before this position, there is a slight pause during the time of stroke. Main purpose of this pause is to set the timing of the boat. Always remember that entering and exiting of all the paddle blades should be done simultaneously. Simultaneous coordination and team work must be done in such a manner that with less effort more work will be done. During the catching period the angle made by the blade should be 45 degree. Position your outside hand under the arm of the person sitting in front of you.



The main purpose of this position is to set the blade into the water. Till the time the paddle is not fully immersed inside the water, you have to drive the paddle with both hands up to 18 inches deep inside the water. As huge force is required you need to drive the paddle like hammering it into the concrete. After complete immersion, the paddle will anchor itself in the water. Maintain the anchor in such a manner that it will be easy for you to pull it again up. For maximum bite, the angle made by the blade with the side of the boat should be 90 degree


Once the paddle is completely inside the water, next step is to move the water. This is known as pull. Pulling back of the paddle should be done in parallel to the boat. The work of the top arm is to stabilize the paddle whereas bottom arm and back muscles do the work of pulling back. While pulling, the paddler should sit back and drive the paddle in the downward direction with the top hand. To impact heavy force, one should rely more upon the back muscles, shoulder, and trunk rather than depending upon the muscle powers. Try not to pull over much back or not to push too much. The total length of pull phase is 18 inch.


At the end of the stroke, the exit of the paddle should be done at the hip level. If the stroke goes past the hip, then it will result in positioning the paddling blade in such a manner that it will slow down the boat. To clear the water with the help of the paddle, you should slightly bend your outside arm. In order to aid the process slightly, twist your lower wrist. As soon as the paddle comes out of the water, it is ready to be pushed again. This recovery stage is important because this will help in giving rest to your muscles and to regain back your strength.


One of the major components of the stroke is rotation that helps in attaining maximum extension. With the help of rotation, a paddler can get 2-4 inches extra with every stroke. On an average count, if 20 people will impose the rotational force simultaneously then it can add up to 7 feet to the stroke. Try to impose the rotational force in smooth and elastic manner.

Now let’s know about some important paddling commands that you will hear frequently from captain.

S.No. Commands & Meaning

Seat steady

By making an angle of 90 degree with the side of the boat, paddle in a relaxed position parallel over the water


Push off

Push your boat away from any obstacles; usually the docks.


Let it run

Crew people stop paddling and the boat comes into the halt naturally.


Back it down

Paddle backward in slow motion



To move the boat either to the left or to the right. By reaching to the side, pull the water towards the boat.


Take it away

It is a command usually given to start the paddling.


Paddles up

Paddling is done above the water level and ready to start the stroke; usually during the starting of the match.


Brace the boat

It is a command to stabilize your boat by resting the blade on the top of the water.


Hold the boat

It is a command in which resistance force is created with the help of paddles to stop the boat.