About Sydney Dragon Blades dragon boating club

The SDB TeamThe Sydney Dragon Blades were formed in 1992, as the University of Technology, Sydney Dragon Boat Club.

Season 2013/14 looks to be an exciting and fun season – the club is keenly recruiting paddlers of all ages and sporting ability – as long as you have a keen interest in becoming fitter, are a team player and don’t mind contributing to the club on and off the water.

We’re not looking for natural athletes, just ordinary people who want to work hard and have fun in the process. There is definitely the scope to satisfy your competitive desire. We also have scope for social paddlers who come to us to meet new people or make a healthy change to their lives. Does this sound like you?

How a dragon boating crew works

Needless to say, no crew can win a race without 22 crew members (including the drummer and sweep) who work hard for each other. While paddling in time the paddlers power the boat forward together, stroke by stroke. Here is a description of each of the roles on a dragon boat:


The drummer is seated at the front of a dragon boat (pictured). While this role may look easy compared to the paddlers who are propelling the boat forward, the drummer actually plays a vital role in the success of the crew in a race. During the heat of a race, the adrenalin runs high and often it takes a dedicated person to make sure the paddlers are in time with each other.

The level of control of the crew, by the drummer varies from country to country, but in Chinese and international dragon boat racing, the drummer is considered the captain of the boat and controls the pace of the boat. Our drummer in this picture does so by making calls to the leading pair of paddlers (the strokes) when the pace needs to change, as well as beating the drum to the pacer’s new pace after the change. The drummer and the sweep (person at the back of the boat, who keeps the boat straight) relay each others’ calls to make sure the whole boat is aware of pace changes.

Technically anybody can be a drummer, but due to mass-handicap reasons, a lightweight team member is usually selected.


At the feet of the drummer are our lead paddlers, who we call the strokes. They are called the strokes or pacers because they convert the drummer’s calls into actual paddling strokes. For the rest of the boat, these leading paddlers are their source of timing.

Since they set the pace for the rest of the boat to follow, it is important that these two strokes are in time with each other. The crew won’t be that successful if one side of the boat is out of time with the other! Of the two strokes, one would assume the role of “lead stroke”, while the other follows pace.

Note arm positions of our 2 strokes, being identical height and angle, and the paddle position of our male stroke with that of the row behind. This is an example of a boat in perfect timing. Anyone with good timing sense can become a stroke, but because the water at the front of the boat is still (the water at seat 3 onwards is usually moving because it has been brushed back by the strokes), and also due to the space at the front of the boat, paddlers of a moderate height, size but who are strong are usually picked.


The drummer and strokes provide the precision and timing in the boat; the 18 paddlers provide the power in the boat. Due to the noise levels in the heat of a race, paddlers get their timing by watching the stroke who sits on the opposite side, that is, if you’re sitting on the left of the boat, your timing will come from the stroke seated on the right hand side. When all paddlers keep a constant eye on the pace provided by the strokes, the whole crew is in time. The seating arrangement of paddlers in a crew are determined by many factors, despite some beliefs that the most powerful paddlers might sit in the centre, or “engine room” of the boat, or that the best paddlers might sit at the front of the boat. Put it this way, if you’re on the crew, you’re a valued member!

The most basic criteria used for arranging a crew is the size and mass of paddlers. Due to the narrow ends of the boat, paddlers who are smaller in stature are often picked for the first and last rows. Conversely, taller or broader paddlers are positioned towards the more spacious rows in the centre.

Also, paddlers are usually paired by mass. If a boat is left or right-heavy, it may rock while the boat is in motion, reducing the crew’s effectiveness. Furthermore the half of the crew who are sitting higher due to the boat’s uneven balance may not reach the water as well as they should.


The sweep is the person at the back of the boat who steers the boat while it is in motion. In a race, the sweep’s job is to keep the boat going straight so the boat does not travel unnecessary distance swerving around.

The sweep also has to relay timing calls made by the drummer, and also encourage the crew during the race, as our sweep is doing in the picture. As the person with the furthest and widest vision in the crew, the sweep has to be aware of the conditions surrounding the race boat, overriding the drummer’s calls if necessary (such as if there was any obstructions).

During a race, an experienced sweep in a well balanced boat (paddle-power-wise) will be able to steer the dragon boat with the sweep oar out of the water or with only minimal blade area immersed to minimise drag.

Of the roles on a dragon boat, the sweep is the position with the most names. From crew to crew, this position is called a sweep, steerer, helmsman or coxswain. Of the variations, both helmsman or coxswain derive their names from British naval terms, where the steerer of a boat is also the captain of the boat. In dragon boat this is not correct – the drummer of the boat calls the timing and is hence the captain. Some crews, particularly those from outside Asia, trivialise the role of the drummer, but both traditional and international competition officials call for an active role by the drummer, not decorative. Hence the terms helmsman and coxswain do not apply to dragon boating. Rather, they apply better to rowing where the steerer also calls the timing of the rowers.