Alex, a coach from Shanghai-based Shanglong Dragonboat Club, is mildly offended when we describe the activity as quirky. ‘Actually it’s pretty mainstream in Canada and there’s a campaign to make it an Olympic sport,’ he says.
Still, despite a long history – it’s said to have originated two and a half millenia ago on Dongjing Lake in Hunan province – we’re still not sure we’d describe dragon boat racing as mainstream.
That doesn’t mean it’s not good fun however and the club have a dedicated crowd of regulars who every Sunday morning take a 40 minute minibus to Qingpu, where there’s a dedicated water sports training centre.
When we give it a try, it’s an exhilarating experience and there are moments when you really get the sense that the 20-person boat is moving as one. Afterwards, we are numb-bummed and have bruised fingers and aching shoulders but we feel great.
While upper body strength is an advantage, Shanglong Dragonboat Club is very inclusive (‘that’s why we never win anything’ says one member) – so all levels of fitness are welcome. The club also gets invited to races all over China, so being part of the team is also a great way to travel the country.
Don’t forget a dry change of clothes though – it can get splashy out on the water and there are showers at the training centre so you can wash and change afterwards. Shanglong Dragonboat Club meet at Shanghai Centre at 8am every Sunday. Land training in a gym takes place every Thursday from 7.30-9.30pm. For more details see www.dragonboatsh.org or email email@example.com