Variations In Stroke Technique
As previously mentioned, stroke technique will vary slightly from person to person due in a large part to differences in physiology and training background, and should be tolerated to a certain degree, particularly at a local race level. While it is important to have everyone paddling the same technique, it is more important to ensure that each paddler is contributing to his or her highest potential. Even the best teams in the world show a variation in individual technique yet they all pull a lot of water and win.
The critical issue is that each paddler hits each phase of the stroke with precise timing and that the movement front to back and side to side are consistent throughout the boat to maintain balance and smooth running. Even though paddlers may have slight differences in form, ie. some rotating more or others with a slightly higher blade on recovery, if everyone is executing each phase correctly and in time, it is doubtful that efforts spent on minor adjustments for the sake of consistency make any significant difference in boat speed.
It is more important to focus on the smooth transition of power from one phase of the stroke to the next and that the delivery of power is timed perfectly for each paddler at every point in the stroke.
The basics of technique that establish consistency among team members are recapped as follows:
The nature of the boat can also effect the characteristic of stroke technique due to shorter seat spacing, higher gunwales, the weigh of the boat or the size of the paddles. It is imperative to ‘test’ out a race boat by varying stroke length and rating to find the most effective combination to make the particular craft move the fastest. For example, an eight man colour boat responds much better to a longer stroke with a greater emphasis on a drawn out kicked finish, compared to a quicker dragonboat stroke.
Natural elements such as tide, wind or water conditions will impact on technique. Racing with a tailwind for instance should increase boat speed and allow for an increased stroke rating, whereas rating should decrease and a greater stroke length should be implemented when heading into a wind.
In choppy water it is important to have paddle blades higher on the recovery and to emphasize greater depth in the water to avoid going in too ‘short’ when a wave trough is encountered. Choppy water will also slow the boat down so it is important to be able to adjust stroke rating in order to suit the abilities of the crew to the particular conditions experience.
One of the most immediate features of stroke technique which can be readily adjusted is the RATING and finding the ‘right’ rating is the greatest difficulty many teams face. There is a delicate balance between boat speed and rating which is effected by the conditioning and strength of a crew and the duration of the work load.
Basically, the faster the boat moves, the higher the possible rating. Conversely, however, a higher rating will not necessarily translate into a faster boat speed unless the crew is fit enough or well prepared to respond to the demand. CONTROL and POWER must take priority over RATING and even if one paddler fails to keep up to the pace set by the rest of the crew, then the boat will not run at its optimum speed. Ideally, a team should strive to maintain the length of stroke yet at as high a rating as possible.
Demands on rating depends very much on the calibre of competition. For example, the top Dragonboat teams in International level competition rate between 85 to 96 strokes a minutes with rating surges that top out between 98 to 120 (Nam Hoi bursts out of the start with a blistering 130). Rating at 75 to 80 will not allow a crew competitive in an International class regardless of how much power they can muster. On the other hand, at a local, competition, the more effective teams rarely go beyond 80, and very often teams that attempt to sustain ratings of 85 plus, fade quickly due to the lack of conditioning required to maintain such a pace.
A large problem is that a crew will not physically be aware that their rating is too high until they are well into a race and they start to fail due to lactic acid poisoning. A critical part of training a crew is to develop the discipline to maintain control over the natural desire to exceed their limitations in the heat of a race; a crew must learn to push the rating as high as they can, but only as far as it contributes to a faster boat.
Changes in rating play an important role in the development of a race strategy and a crew must be well versed in the technical differences and varying degrees of endurance that are associated with different stroke rates. Generally a slower rating will be accompanied by a longer stroke length with a greater emphasis on torso rotation and pull with the lower back muscles.
Consistency and maximum use of power through the COMPRESSION phase is the critical aspect of a lower rating which allows a paddler to function at a level of intensity just below his or her anaerobic threshold.
At a higher rating of 95 plus the characteristics of the stroke technique changes dramatically with a reduced length of stroke and less movement of the lower torso.
A powerful propulsion comes more from the CATCH and FINISH since the COMPRESSION power phase is reduced in length. The CATCH location should change very little and only the FINISH position is moved forward, requiring the paddler to lock the angle of his torso forward and to derive power from the rotation of his upper shoulders and arms.
Being able to shift easily from the long to middle to short stroke technique is vital and improper training will lead to a paddler becoming overly taxed and frustrated at attempting to apply a long stroke technique to a high rating or trying to apply a high rating to a boat which is just not moving very fast.
The Hong Kong Island Paddle Club is proud to announce that the 11th Deep Water Bay Dragon Boat Races on 9th May 2010 was the first Carbon Neutral dragon boat race in the world. With the innovative partnership of Carbon Care Asia, a low carbon solutions specialist, this event was also Hong Kong's first carbon neutral sports event.
Hong Kong Island Paddle Club is partnering with the Hong Kong Shark Foundation
If you are interested in sponsoring the Hong Kong VRC Paddle Club please email Stephane Boualam, Sponsorship Secretary, for more information.