Dragon Boat Paddling Technique Tips

Woman holding paddle with paddle, arms, and back forming A frame

5 quick tips and mental reminders about basic positions in the dragon boat stroke and what to think of.

#1 Ready Position – The Foundation

  • Sit up straight.
  • Both feet are forward and planted on the rib (ridges) on the floor of the boat. A variation is one foot may be tucked under your seat. Most important is you have a solid base with your feet and connection to the boat
  • Simply raise your paddle forward with straight arms. Elbows shouldn’t be locked and a slight bend in the arm is ok. Make sure your paddle has a positive angle compared to the water and paddle face is facing forward and not at an angle.
  • Bottom arm is parallel to water surface.
  • Paddle will reach near the knees of the person in front of you.

Mental Note: You can hold the position comfortably for 10 seconds without straining.

#2 Body Weight and Positioning on the Seat

  • Keep your weight outside the boat throughout the whole stroke.
  • An easy way to check your positioning is you should be able to comfortably see the outside of the boat and its colour while paddling. Of course, during paddling make sure to look up at your team.

Mental Notes:

  • As you’re reaching forward, pretend you’re reaching around a tree in front of you with both arms.
  • When paddling, as your bottom arm moves through the air (arm closest to water), the motion is similar to trying to reach for the shoulder of the person in front of you with your bottom arm. Just remember, don’t actually hit the shoulder of the person in front of you!

#3 Setup of the stroke – The Catch

  • Reach forward with rotation (rotating) and bend forward slightly (hinging).
  • Keep your arms fairly straight, but do not lock them totally straight. See the “A” frame in the picture for what that looks like.

Woman holding paddle with paddle, arms, and back forming A frame

Mental Note: Think you’re reaching out to pull open a big heavy door.
You need to use all your body strength (rotation) and have a stable frame (strong, fairly straight arms) to pull it open.

#4 Pull Through the Water

  • De-rotate as you pull and engage your legs to help you.
  • Put your weight on the paddle by pushing down with your top hand.
  • When sitting up during the de-rotation, lean forward a bit (e.g. 10 degrees). Avoid sitting all the way up.

Mental Notes:

Think your body is fixed into the seat and you can only rotate around a central axis. Rotate into the inside of the boat — your belly button should be pointing into the boat and rotation your entire body core and not just your shoulders.

#5 Exit and Recovery

  • Pull the paddle out of the water at the hip (i.e. when your paddle reaches your hip, pull out). Starting thinking about exiting as your paddle reaches your knee to be ready to exit at the hip.
  • Give a little push at the end of the stroke to accelerate the boat and make it easier to recover back to the catch. You can hear the sound of the water being pushed at the end of the stroke.
  • Make sure your top hand does not cross into the boat during recovery. Thinking about your top hand being over the water will help you keep your weight on the paddle and outside of the boat.
  • Lead the recovery with your top hand.

Mental Note: Think about pulling a sword out from your hip with your top hand.


Dragon Boat Canada, Bateau-Dragon Canada. (2011). Coaching Community Dragon Boat. Dragon Boat Canada, Bateau-Dragon Canada.


By Justin Tung

Servant of the public as a communications and IT jack of all trades. Always willingly to fundraise and volunteer for the greater good.

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