Paddling with the Dragons

Henley Dragon Boat Club visit

Steve Carter, Jay Manning, Claire Blacklock, Mel Chapman and Matt Argyle were invited up to Henley on Thames, location of the famous Henley Royal Regatta, by the Henley Dragon Boat Club. Matt Argyle tells us more :

The British Strand Up Paddle Association received an intriguing email from Celia Blakeway-Phillips, the social secretary of the Henley Dragon Boat Club, asking if our members would like to go and try Dragon Boating.  So we put the word out and myself, Jay, Claire, Steve and Mel set off for Henley on a beautiful Sunday morning in April.  I had seen some pictures of Dragon Boating but apart from that I went armed with very little information, John Hibbard had promised us that it would be "fun" !

We arrived at the club house of the Henley Dragon Boat club, which is a fantastic facility, and straight away the Chris, one of the guys who trains the Dragon’s, issued us with life jackets and paddles and gave us a brief about what we could expect.  He taught us, on dry land, how the paddle stroke breaks down, with the use of arms, shoulders, the waist, back and the "kick".  Next up we did what so few stand up paddle surfers do, which is a proper warm up before hitting the water.  All I could concentrate on was Steve’s flip flops slapping on the ground as we jogged round the car park.  At this point my alarm bells should have been ringing.  This was not to be a gentle trip up the Thames, this was going to be something a little more intense.

We had joined the Henley Dragons on a Sunday morning, which is one of their normal training days, and they promised us that we would not need all the extra clothing that we had bought – as we would soon "be warm enough".  We then were given our numbers, which lets you know which seat you are going to sit in the boat.  Myself and Jay were sitting in number 5, which was about the middle of the boat, the rest were spread around us (the girls had to be moved around to much hilarity from us).  No sooner than we were settled in we were off.

Straight away I was surprised at the stroke rate in a dragon boat, unlike the long handled SUP paddle, the dragon boat paddle is short and therefore you can paddle a lot quicker.  It was after a couple of minutes that the word went out for "90% effort".  Hells bells, I thought, I was going at 90% ! What followed was one of the best workouts I have ever had on the water. 

We split the paddle stroke down and concentrated on each element individually for about 10 minutes, gradually bringing all the elements together.  Then we were beasted with sprints, for example 20 seconds of 90% effort followed by 20 seconds on "easy" effort, then repeat, with the sprint times gradually getting longer and longer. We then finished off with a race against the other dragon boat (we won, but we did have about 4 more paddlers than they had).  Then we did it all again, culminating in another race (Steve and one of the dragons went into the other boat, we still won ;)).  By the end of the session I was exhausted and the tea and bacon sandwich provided by Elspeth at the club house were most welcome.  I feel I should also apologise to the guys who were sitting in front of myself and Jay in the boat, especially Vicki as we did manage to soak them with our inexperienced paddling, sorry about that, you can get your own back when you join us at the Witterings !

After we had recovered we got the stand up paddle boards and let the dragons have a go, all of them took to it quickly and by the end of the session were happily paddling around the island in front of the club house, I think I can be confident in saying that we are the first stand up paddlers to take to the water at Henley, the great things about SUP is that right now there are so many "firsts".  Later this year the guys from the Henley Dragon Boat Club will be coming down to the Witterings to sample SUPing on the sea so we get to return the favour and they get to, hopefully, sample some waves. 

After our hosts had left we decided to have a paddle on the Thames. For someone like me who loves waves, I was really suprised how much I enjoyed our river paddle.  Cruising past mooring and houses that front onto the river was a very relaxing way to spend a Sunday.  We went under the stone bridge (biggest barrel I have ever had) then back past the Angel pub towards the club house.   There were lots of curious tourists taking pictures and gawping at us, it was a little bit weird, but if it raises the interest in the sport then it is all good, a guy in the back of a boat was shaking his head and saying "in 20 years of being on the Thames I have never seen anyone surfing it".  Next time I go back to Henley I will be interested to see if SUP has caught on.

Huge thanks to Celia, Elspath, Chris, Denny, Vicki, Wendy and all the other guys from Henley Dragon Boat Club.