The pleasure of paddling

The Hunter River Dragons show how an ancient sport is holding its water, paddling for fun, fitness and a little bit of competition.

Officially incorporated in 2012, the year of the water dragon in Chinese astrology, the Hunter River Dragons have been paddling strong for over a decade. They are one of 64 dragon boat clubs spread across NSW that compete year-round. Their ‘home ground’ is at the public boat ramp in the historic river port town of Morpeth in the lower Hunter Valley.

The Hunter River Dragons adopted the colours of the water dragon – black, gold and sapphire – in his honour and club members believe the dragon’s philosophy guides their progress.

Legend has it that ‘he favours optimum growth and expansion and is able to set aside his ego for the greater good. He is able to accept defeat or rejection without bitterness. He knows how to act wisely and what is essential for his progress’.

Dragon boat racing is believed to have its origins in China more than 2000 years ago when superstitious Chinese villagers celebrated the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. They would hold races in a bid to avert misfortune and to encourage the rains needed for prosperity. The object of their worship was the dragon, a traditional symbol of water.

These days it’s an all-season sport and members of the Hunter River Dragons are both male and female, ranging in age from 12 to 83 years.

The rich history of dragon boating sets it apart from other water sports, so does the boat size and set up.
Most other rowing sports have six or less paddlers, but dragon boats need 20, plus a sweep who steers the boat and a drummer. The drummer works with the paddlers to keep rhythm and timing throughout a race.

Whatever floats your boat

“I started dragon boating for exercise, and I thought it’d be good fun,” says Lynn Page who has been a member for five years.

I’m chatting to Lynn just after 7am on a misty Sunday morning, Hunter River-side, where a special training session that includes beginners is underway.

“The club were very welcoming when I first started and still are to all the newcomers. I usually train twice a week,” she explains.

“I like the peace and quiet and you’re also immersed in nature. The different times of day have a different atmosphere. Sometimes we have the odd fish that jumps in the boat, which is very exciting.” Although it looks like quite a physical sport, Lynn, who is currently in her sixties, says it really is suitable for everyone.

“Anyone can do it. It’s good upper body work and just general strength and it’s probably mentally good too, for people to be involved with others. You don’t have to be a sports person to take part in dragon boating, you just learn the method.”

Fellow paddler, Kathy Grant from East Maitland agrees. “We’ve got some great coaches who will sit next to you and help you. It’s just fun, everyone laughs and jokes in the boat. My husband just joined and he’s loving it.”

“My partner also does dragon boating. She’s the head coach”, shares dragon boat enthusiast Bronwyn Dyason who is also the club secretary.

Read more in our Winter Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Sally Maguire, photography courtesy of Hunter River Dragons