Stanford Dragonboat focuses on team organization and community

Courtesy of David Calica

Courtesy of David Calica

Most people have heard of crew, but few are familiar with dragonboating, another highly competitive aquatic team sport. In fact, many of the Stanford Dragonboat team members themselves had never heard of the sport before coming to Stanford.

In a given race, boats usually each have approximately 20 paddlers sitting in pairs, with a drummer at the front shouting instructions and one person at the back steering. The Stanford team includes 35 members, most of whom joined the team with little to no prior experience.

David Lam ’15, who has spent three years on the team and is currently acting as interim president, emphasized the team’s open policy for new members. Regardless of their backgrounds, interested students can participate in a trial period at the beginning of the school year to see if the sport appeals to them.

“We usually don’t have tryouts because we’re a pretty accepting team,” Lam said. “For a lot of people it’s their first time ever picking up a paddle and doing dragonboat.”

“Coming to Stanford, I really wanted to something that was athletic in nature but didn’t require too much of a time commitment like other club sports,” he added.

Christine Li ’16 joined the dragonboat team during winter quarter of her freshman year after leaving the crew team as a fall quarter walk-on. Although she did not know what the sport was at the time, she explained that she had also been looking for a water sport with a lower commitment.

“I wanted to do some kind of unique team sport, and I also loved being on the water,” Li said.

With its no-cuts policy, the sport has created a welcoming community that has allowed Li to meet people she never would have otherwise, whether they come from different majors or from the graduate community. Li also emphasized that the team has made exercising more enjoyable.

“I found that working out with a team is way more fun than by yourself, and everyone’s really supportive no matter what level you’re at,” Li said. “Anyone can join Dragonboat…It has more to do with your commitment, and it’s more about how much you improve rather than the skills that you have.”

The team practices three times a week: Tuesdays on the track, Thursdays in the gym and Sundays on the water at a local estuary in Redwood City called Bair Island.

Haiyin Wang ’17, a freshman with prior experience in water polo, joined Dragonboat to try a new sport that would allow him to remain close to the water. He also explained that the weekly workouts make the sport an even more distinct experience.

“I really appreciate how it’s a very diverse sport, and the exercise regimen that comes with it is really unique,” Wang said. “And [spending] Sunday mornings paddling on the water is really nice and cathartic.”

According to Lam, practices take place year-round as the real Dragonboat season technically falls in the summer. He also explained that since most students are not around in the summer, Stanford’s team misses many of the races that occur during the actual season.

However, Lam doesn’t see this as detrimental.

“It’s just good to get as much practice as possible because when we do race, there are very few opportunities so we want to do our best at the races we go to,” Lam said. “Our goal isn’t necessarily to win, but [we try] to always improve on what we’ve done before and to make sure that everyone feels that they gave it their very best.”

The team participates in three or four competitions each year, and races include various divisions such as single-gender, mixed-gender and college-only teams. The team recently competed in Arizona and will have their fourth race of the season at Lake Merced in San Francisco on May 3.

“We’re a very small team and we’re very new so we tend to not do as well as some of the UC schools,” Li said. “They have bigger dragonboat teams, and they tend to be pretty competitive; we’re a lot smaller, but we’re trying to get up there and be as competitive as them.”

Lam explained that this year has also seen a transition in the team’s leadership committee. The core is elected every spring and splits administrative and logistical roles such as coordinating which races the team will attend and which team members will compete.

“We’ve been transitioning from a very one-person-dominated team to a leadership group of many different people, and it’s been really interesting to see that transition occur,” Lam said. “Even though it hasn’t necessarily grown in terms of the size of the team, [the team] has definitely grown in terms of the organization.”

According to Lam, this year the core has focused on building a community and on making sure team members feel they have done the best they can.

“I’ve gotten a lot of workouts in, made a lot of good friends, gone to pretty cool places with reduced cost,” Lam said. “It’s also taught me to be a more responsible person.”

Li also spoke about the team’s emphasis on improvement rather than winning.

“It’s all about the team and the boat as a whole…but you feel like you’re a necessary part of the team as well,” Li said. “It really encourages you to feel this connection with the rest of the boat.”

“The feeling of competing and going as fast as you can is very exciting and rewarding even if you don’t win,” she added.

 

Contact Kylie Jue at kyliej ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

About Kylie Jue

Kylie Jue is a desk editor at The Stanford Daily and has previously worked as a staff writer and summer intern for the paper. She is a freshman from Cupertino, California and plans to study computer science and English during her time at Stanford.