To ‘Reach’ or Not to ‘Reach’ in Dragon Boat

By Blake Hara, Gushou Co-Founder

Whether you are coaching a team or working with your team as one of 20 paddlers, words matter when it comes to dragon boat technique. Changing one word can clear up confusion and better describe proper technique in a way that will take your paddling to the next level.

Years ago, I stopped telling athletes to “reach for the catch.”  Reason being, they were simply reaching, and the instruction did not encourage core engagement and extension – just the opposite actually.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, “Reach” is defined as “Stretch out an arm in a specified direction in order to touch or grasp something.” Herein lies the problem. We want core extension, not reach. My experience is that athletes separate arms from core upon hearing the instruction to ‘reach’ instead of marrying the two for greater benefit. This is why I now refrain from using the word ‘reach’ (although it does occasionally slip out accidentally).

What does this mean for your dragon boat stroke?

The set-up of a dragon boat stroke is a moment that provides the opportunity to ensure key body positions are established before the blade enters the water.

The start of the stroke, known as the Catch, is an opportunity to recruit and engage the core and load weight into the start of the next stroke cycle. In dragon boat, and other paddling sports, effective “set-up” positions, like the Catch, usually produce efficient and engaged execution phases. That is why engaging core muscles is so important at the start of the stroke.

What do I call it if not reach?

‘Extension’ is the new ‘Reach’. Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a part that is added to something to enlarge or prolong it,” this is more applicable for our purposes when setting up a more efficient dragon boat stroke technique. Achieving the perfect catch position is the result of a combination of movements and body parts; it’s a compound event that depends on much more than just the arms.

When telling a paddler to reach, their concern is finding the the largest positive angle above all else. Notice the compromised position, bent top arm, and overall weak body position in the image below. Not a position you want to start your stroke with.

Image 1: Reach

In the second image below, the paddler focuses on extension. The solid top arm position will allow maximum transfer of weight onto the paddle and strong core position which will lead to solid execution through the water.

Image 2: Extension

Another reason to get out of the ‘reach’ mindset is that individual paddlers ‘reaching’ the extra inch can actually negatively affect the overall rhythm and speed of the boat. The extra reach will likely take them out of the collective team rhythm and energy cycle. In dragon boat, being on same page as your teammates is essential. Instead of focusing on individual ‘reach’ objectives, focus on cohesive core body positions and rhythm. The beauty of dragon boating is that anyone can win, it’s all about technique, team effort, and big picture perspective.

Now, go win!

Let us know in the comment section below what some of your biggest technique questions are!

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