Paddles Up! The Alameda DragonFlyers

Paddles Up! The Alameda DragonFlyers

Kristen Hanlon

Photo by Kristen Hanlon.

Perhaps you’ve seen the long, narrow boats gliding gracefully up and down the Alameda/Oakland Estuary, paddlers raising and lowering their paddles in unison as they glide under the drawbridges and through the waters near the Port of Oakland, dwarfed by giant container ships and Coast Guard cutters. As I found out on a recent evening, that grace is earned with a tremendous amount of effort.

I sat in on a practice with the boat tied to the dock since the evening gusts were too strong to take the boat out on the estuary. At the front, seasoned dragon boater Lendy Won offered instruction.

“Right leg against the gunwale! Paddles up! Lean forward! Rotate!”

At best, I was able to get one stroke in for every two of the person in front of me, and at the end of practice my body felt like it had been to boot camp. If one is looking for an alternative to Pilates, though, perhaps dragon boating is the way to go - my muscles were sore, but my core felt strong.

Dragon boating has a tradition that goes back 2,000 years to its origins in China. In California, there are dozens of dragon boat teams up and down the coast, from Eureka to San Diego. Established in 2000, the Alameda DragonFlyers is one of the most active teams in the Bay Area. Currently there are 58 team members, ranging in age from a 16-year-old to Rye Huber, who is the oldest at age 75.

Huber, who has been with the DragonFlyers for eight years, says she loves being on the water. “Your endorphins get going, and you feel so inspired,” she said. “It feels so good. And it’s a lot of fun, too.”

Charles Addison, on the team for two years added: “The exercise is fantastic.”

Mark Gerhard, the team steersperson, describes his job as “steering the boat, being responsible for safety and not running into stuff.” He lauds the social aspect of being an Alameda DragonFlyer: “It’s a lot of fun. Most people who join end up staying.”

The team fields two mixed-gender crews, a men’s team and a women’s team, and a grand masters team. The crews are comprised of 20 paddlers, a steersperson and a drummer. They practice three times a week during daylight savings time, on Monday and Wednesday evenings and early Saturday mornings.

In competitions the boat is rigged with a decorative Chinese dragon head and tail, and the drummer sits at the front of the boat, facing the paddlers, beating a cadence and shouting commands. The DragonFlyers compete several times per season, including local races at Treasure Island and Lake Merritt. Their first race of the season was on April 28 at Lake Merced in San Francisco.

They are always recruiting new members, says team captain Carol Beaver. More information on the Alameda DragonFlyers can be found at their website: