How I Competed as an International Dragon Boat Racer

Helen Law remembers her frustrations at the 2018 Club Crew World Championships

Nivedan Kaushal // Arts & Culture Editor

“Paddlers, are you ready?” Helen Law, a fourth-year Early Childhood Care and Education student, sat amongst the 22 crew members who represented Canada. Law sat in the 10th row of the 40 foot long dragon boat – the steerer at the stern, the drummer at the bow. Their white and red jerseys had “Dreadnought” written across them. The horn blew. “30 seconds in, the bungee cord that held the drum in place snapped. The drummer fell. They deemed it as ‘not a safety concern’ and we came out last.”

Law’s dragon boating career began when a youth worker introduced her to the sport in Grade 11. Her first team was community oriented, focusing on having fun on the waters of False Creek. A few years later, she earned herself a spot on Dreadnought, a competitive Vancouver-based dragon boat racing team. From her first race with the team in Portland, Oregon, to placing fifth at Nationals, Dreadnought quickly advanced in the global rankings and qualified for the 2018 Club Crew World Championships (CCWC). The 21-year-old athlete practiced six days a week leading up to the tournament, with some days having double workouts.

Dragon boating arose more than 2,000 years ago in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong, China. The boats themselves were culturally significant for the ancient Chinese, serving as vessels to appease the rain gods. When Chinese poet and minister, Qu Yuan, committed suicide in the Mi Lo river to protest political corruption, the public began organizing dragon boat races in his honour. Thousands of years later, the sport is now governed by the International Dragon Boat Federation, who held the 2018 CCWC at the Olympic Centre of Szeged, Hungary. Despite dragon boating’s ancient origins, the sport remains massively popular, with more than 40 teams competing in Dreadnought’s bracket alone. “We lost the 200 metre because of the drum, and the 500 metre was even more stupid. We got fourth, but according to all audience and photographic evidence that we have obtained, it looked like we crossed the finish line third,” said Law.

It was time for the last race of the whole tournament – the two kilometre dash. Eager to medal at least once, Dreadnought faced its final chance for glory. The teams approached the starting line. As they paddled mercilessly to the finish, one team’s boat began to sink. “All the coach boats came to rescue them. But of course, these coach boats create a lot of wake which affects how the boats paddle. So pretty much – in the end – everybody got screwed over.”

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