If you’re in Chatham on a summer evening and look out onto the Thames, you might be able to spot a dragon boat, its paddlers hard at work preparing for this year’s races.
Local dragon boat racing team the Raging Dragons of Chatham-Kent—or RDOCK, as they call themselves—have been around in one form or another since the mid-nineties. The sport of dragon boat racing, of course, has been around much longer; its roots can be traced back more than 2000 years, when Chinese naval forces used longboats to train for battle. This technically advanced rowing evolved into an exhibition sport similar to the modern races. Even with this extensive history, modern dragon boat racing is the product of a 1970s tourism push in Hong Kong. The push worked: the sport—now using a shorter boat and 20 non-militarized paddlers—has become incredibly popular over the last few decades, around the world and right here in Chatham-Kent.
RDOCK is currently made up of paddlers ranging in age from 20 to 60, most of whom took up the sport as adults. “The beauty of this sport is that it’s easy to pick up the basics,” says longtime Dragon Mike Powell. “So someone who’s been at it for a couple of years can be just as competitive as someone who’s been paddling his whole life.”
Powell joined the team with his wife Lisa, and the couple likes that they’re able to spend time together while training and competing. They’re not the only married couple on the team, although many paddlers, young and old, join individually. “We’re very welcoming,” says Charlene King, who does recruitment for RDOCK. “When a new paddler joins, we make sure that he or she feels like part of the team. That’s important to us.”
Those new paddlers become part of a competitive team environment, where everyone works hard and plays hard. During practices and on race days, the Dragons are acutely focused on their timing and form, but their days off are for relaxation and fun: RDOCK is always getting involved in other activities outside of dragon boating, including curling, feather bowling, running, penny auctions, and charity events.
From late April to September, the team practices on the Thames twice a week. Coach Kelvin Halbauer, who leads the practices, is aiming to push the team hard to get them ready to win gold in their races this year. The team has collected many medals throughout their history and is looking forward to adding to their collection this year. Each summer, RDOCK competes in various competitions in Southern Ontario, as well as several American events. year, the team started its season even earlier than usual, competing in the inaugural Ottawa Ice Dragon Boat Festival on the Rideau Canal in February. Warm weather, however, led to some slushy conditions and made for difficult paddling. While the team plans to compete in the Ice Festival again next year, they are currently focusing on the summer season. Halbauer is confident that it will be a good year for RDOCK: “The team’s shaping up well. We’re going to be competitive this year.”
The Raging Dragons of Chatham-Kent are looking for paddlers, whether experienced or new to the sport. If you’re interested in joining the team, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.