Fierce Rowers, Fiery Dragons: Two Exciting Water Sports Await The Athlete In You

Anyone who craves being part of a team may experience a pang of envy when a sleek boat full of rowers whizzes by in the pink sunrise. Rowing and dragon boating are two popular water sports that grace Lake Ontario all summer long. They’re fun, fantastic for team spirit and morale, and have tremendous fitness benefits. They’re also very different in many ways. Want to know more? Here’s a primer.


Origins: The first representation of a rowing boat, according to the World Rowing Association, was discovered in Finland and dates back to 5800 BC. The earliest rowing regatta was held in the year 1274 in Venice, Italy.

The historical roots of dragon boating can be traced back to China, going back more than 2,000 years. According to legend it commemorates poet and politician Qu Yuan, who was accused of treason and drowned himself in the river. Fishermen raced in an attempt to retrieve his body before he could be eaten by fish.

The Boat: In rowing, the boat is called a “shell.” It’s a sleek, lightweight, carbon fibre boat built for speed. The shell has 1, 2, 4 or 8 rowers.

A dragon boat is a long, narrow, wooden or fibreglass canoe that seats up to 20 paddlers in 10 rows. It has a drummer at the front – who beats the drum in competitions – and a steersperson who navigates the back. During competitions, a dragon head at the front of the boat and a dragon tail at the back are on display.

Propulsion: In rowing, you sit facing the back of the boat and pull an oar to move forward. There are two types of rowing. In sculling, each rower holds two oars, one in each hand. In sweep rowing, each rower holds one oar with both hands. Precision and technique are vital. Rowers strive for synchronization and efficient strokes.

In a dragon boat you face forward and operate the paddle as you would in a canoe.

How competitive? Rowers from the Don Rowing Club (Mississauga) and Leander Boat Club (Hamilton) have a long history of competing in the Olympics and other world championships. These longstanding clubs really strive for excellence and have world-class coaches.

Lively Dragon, Hamilton

Dragon boaters also compete on an international level. Some clubs, however, don’t necessarily require racing at all. Lively Dragon, Hamilton offers programs for both competitive and non-competitive boating. “Dragon boating is for everyone,” says Jackie Taggart, who co-owns the establishment with husband Ramsay Drummond-Young. “It’s for different fitness levels, and for people of all ages. Some choose not to race and just want to be on the water with friends.”


Full body workout. Rowing and dragon boating both use muscles in every part of the body. Both are a powerful way to build strength, agility, stability, and endurance. Training land happens (with both weights, on rowing machines, circuit training, and exercises for core stability) and
on water.

Self awareness. Both water sports require coordination, and the ability to be in sync with teammates. Focus and concentration are key.

Lively Dragon, Hamilton

Paddlers use bursts of energy to move the boat. Strokes are synchronized, but each is punctuated by the beat of a drum. Dragon boat strokes are broader and shorter, with emphasis on raw power and endurance.

Teamwork. Rowing and dragon boating are not about being the MVP or scoring the most touchdowns. Individual strength matters, but so does collective harmony. Rowers and paddlers aim to move as one. “The team aspect is so wonderful,” Taggart says. “It makes you accountable and you make lifetime friends.”

A feeling like no other. An invigorating workout on a pristine lake. Playing a key role on a team. Challenging yourself to be your very best. What could be more fulfilling?

By Michelle Morra

Local Links

Burloak Canoe Club,
160 Water Street, Oakville

Lively Dragon 200
Harbour Front Drive, Hamilton

Don Rowing Club Of Mississauga
35 Front Street North, Mississauga

Leander Boat Club
50 Leander Drive, Hamilton

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