30 Thoughts Every Dragon Boater Has Before The Race

The paddling season just passed by so quickly. Let’s repeat that for emphasis: Each paddling season passes by oh-so-quickly! You’ll be surprised that you’re actually down to your final two or three races for the year.

After weeks and months of practice with your team, there comes the judgement weekend—Dragon Boat Race weekend! And then, before you know it, another race is coming right up again. It becomes a vicious cycle!

Sometimes these series of races would fall in two or even three consecutive weekends. You’d usually blurt out: “Bring it!” For the love of the sport, you must compete. You mustn’t let the team down, they say. (Well, only if you are physically fit to race though. The Chief Boat Marshall will be checking on you.)

Baptism of Fire

For first time racers, you can’t believe that your baptismal dragon boat race is over. Everything happened so fast. You’ve championed it! One fine day, you were just learning how to hold a paddle properly and it was just your first time in the bumpy dragon boat. After that first race, you are now looking forward to the next one. Yes, you are and that’s normal. Welcome to the amazing world of Dragon Boating!

Why Dragon Boat?

As Dragon Boaters, here are the things that go through your brains before the race.

The Night Before

1. I should sleep early. Wait, I need to set the alarm. Then you check again if it’s set.
2. Is my team singlet/kit clean? Which bag do I bring? Where are my sunscreen lotions and potions? You just think of anything frivolous to get psyched up!
3. Are my other gears ready? (E.g. cap, seat pad, life-vest, training gloves, compression shorts; For the ladies: favourite earrings, lucky sports bra, or that charmed lipstick shade)
4. Where’s my paddle? Before going to bed, you put it somewhere near the bed or you let it stand at a corner visible to you. You. Are. Normal.
5. You hold your paddle once more and execute several proper strokes. Your mouth is open.
6. Should I bring food? What snacks are good to share to my team?
7. I have exams on Monday. I will just bring my notes and readings.
8. We have some work issues to solve in the office. I will call them in between races.
9. I hope someone brings a GoPro. Who is taking pictures? Who will take a video of the heats?
10. I should really be sleeping now. It’s late and you’re still looking for your lucky bracelet or anklet.
11. While already in bed, you try to imagine the heats and the intense starts.
12. You need to remember to remind yourself to breathe.
13. As you attempt to close your eyes, you imagine your team in the boat and it makes you nervous.
14. You mentally simulate a race. You get more excited. You’re nervous again.
15. You can not sleep just yet. It’s already 1am or even 2am.

The Next Morning

16. Will I be late? How do I get to the race site fastest?
17. Is everything inside my bag? Just have to wear your race ID lest you forget it.
18. Did I forget something? Sunscreen? SPF200? SPF500? (Those are the race distances.) Team drinking shirt? Favourite sports cologne? Have I fed the cat? Has the baby-sitter confirmed?
19. It just happens to have NO taxis at all in the morning of the races. Always! The buses are ultra slow!
20. Will there be coffee at the race site?
21. I can’t find my team’s tent / location.
22. I need to find our Coach or Team Captain or Race Manager. I need to stay motivated. AND.. I am getting nervous.
23. I need to locate where the toilets are. I am nervous. What the..?
24. You just arrived at the race site and it makes you more nervous seeing other teams. Especially teams that are already warming up!
25. Wait, what’s my position in the boat? No matter, I need to perform my best!
26. What time is my first heat? Which boat or category am I in? You’re a little panicky now. You should really chill.
27. We need to warm up really well. I need to really focus, that’s the job of my Captain.
28. I must push my teammates. At this point, you’re now doing more positive self-talk. Yeah, like a crazy person.
29. Forget the exam. Although you rely on stock knowledge, try to review during breaks.
30. Forget office work or that big presentation for now. Keep mobile phone open. I really should focus on the race and I hope I won’t be thrown in the ice box cooler later. Oh darn it! Focus. Focus. Focus.

These are few of the sudden thoughts (and silent jibber-jabbers) that come across a dragon boater’s mind the night before and the next morning before the races; and trust me, there are a lot more besides. (You have thought of one just now. Share it!)

We are just grateful for our Race Managers and our Coaches for making our lives a lot easier during races. We need not think of other bigger things like the crew composition, changes in crew, addition of crew, et cetera. All they wanted for us is to remain focused on the race and that’s our only job, really.

You Can’t Do It Alone

We just have to focus, to race our hearts out, fight to the finish and just live the moment. Apart from winning medals and cups, the greatest victory and success of a team is the kind of bond and unity that you have formed—how you’ve worked hard with your trainers, the respect you have for each teammate, and, most of all, the faith and trust you have to everyone in the boat.

As you train your body hard, please know that you’re also training your mind harder. Now, let’s get back to team practice!


The Author has been paddling for 18 years now and is still enjoying the fun and profundity of dragon boat paddling. A former President & Team Captain, an IDBF International Race Official and now part of the National Sports Authority’s Management Committee which oversees the Dragon Boat National Team and over a hundred twenty affiliate teams.

Photo Credit: Kelvin Pao

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