Concordia’s Dragon Boat Club Paddles With a Purpose

The Club Prides Itself on Inclusivity and Hopes to Garner More Interest in the Sport

Concordia’s Dragon Boat Club preaches inclusivity and hopes to compete with more schools across the province. Photo Courtesy Ed Nguyen Photography

Gathered inside a Concordia conference room late Friday afternoon for an interview with representatives from the school’s Dragon Boat Club, the words camaraderie and passion swam to the forefront.

Throughout the 45-minute discussion, laughs and friendly banter were exchanged, coupled with a visible love for the sport of dragon boating that they hope to pass along to others.

“One of the great things about dragon boat is it is the kind of sport where it is really easy to get into and yet very hard to master,” said club president Sam Shulman. “Our main tenet as a club is to spread dragon boat as much as we can within the university.”

The club first came into being three years ago. Created by a group of Concordia students who practiced dragon boating recreationally, the club sought to strike a balance between the recreational, community-based and sports-driven dragon boating taking place in Montreal.

Popular among university students in the Greater Toronto Area, the group’s founders hope to gather enough interest to eventually be able to start a dragon boat community at the university. Building a conference for other Montreal-area universities, CEGEPs, and high schools is the ultimate goal.

They have since made large strides in achieving their goal. Last year marked the first time the club has participated in an-all University and CEGEP division alongside the likes of McGill university, Marianopolis college and École de technologie supérieure after previous stints, competing in the community and sports divisions.

Although Concordia ia newest team in the division, the group has noticed increased demand and interest in participating in the sport.

“It’s really just about curiosity,” said Shulman. “Most of the people who join the team do so because they are interested and want to try it. We just want anyone interested to come join us.”

As a result, the club promotes the idea of inclusivity, never rejecting anyone who wants to give dragon boating a try. While experience in kayaking, canoeing or dragon boating are welcomed, they are not necessary to become a part of the team. The club also boasts a virtually even split between male and female members.

It is in large part because of this that the dragon boat team has chosen to remain a club and not become a part of the larger Stingers family.

“By virtue of being a club, we can’t and don’t want to turn anyone down,” said Shulman. “That is not to say we won’t ever want to get there, but for right now, we just want people to get to know the sport and get people interested.”

Concordia’s dragon boat team has participated in both the fall and winter club fairs on campus to get the word out about the dragon boat team. Facebook and Twitter pages, along with a mass mailing list, promote the club’s activities as well. Word of mouth is another big part of generating interest in the club amongst fresh faces.

“The biggest challenge is getting people to want to come try it and be committed to it,” said Shulman. “A lot of people want to try and then decide they do not want to commit their time and money to it. We do expect a minimum level of commitment.”

Concordia earned a bronze medal at the Montreal Challenge Race, held last summer, and finished second place among all schools for the summer competition season. The results surpassed initial expectations. However, for the time being, the group is committed, above all else, to garnering newfound support for the club in the form of new members.

“We are really in it for the fun of it all,” said Shulman. “Yes, it’s fun to win medals but the primary goal is just to get people into it. Our belief is that if you get people excited in the sport because it is fun and challenging, that will make them want to win.”

The team of approximately 25 members trains every Saturday during the winter months at Canal Fitness, an indoor training facility offering a simulated paddling experience, similar to what is experienced on the waters. The group trains alongside its McGill rivals under the watchful eye of certified coaches.

Come May, once the ice has defrosted and water reaches an appropriate level, the club takes their training outdoors onto the Lachine Canal. It is then that the team ramps up their training to twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday evenings ahead of the summer races beginning in June.

Participating in those practices does come at a cost. It costs up to $95 for 30 two-hour long indoor practices at the simulation tank, according to Stephanie Ng, Vice President of Finance for the club. There are additional fees that must be paid for boat rentals, coaching, uniforms and competition entry fees during the summer. Those fees totalled $250 last season.

Ng is confident that a recent endowment on the part of the Concordia Student Union will help alleviate membership costs significantly for the upcoming season. The club has held bake sales and have sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts on campus as another means of reducing membership costs. In addition, the group has created a sponsorship package to entice local businesses and companies to join ship.

The fees, however, do little to deter club members such as Kevin Luu, a second-year dragon boater.

“Compared to other sports, for instance hockey, I don’t think it’s that expensive,” said Luu. “It’s not just a sport, it’s a team-bonding experience. You make connections. It’s worth the price.”

He was persuaded to join the team last year by the founders of the club and he has not regretted his decision. Luu recognizes the potential and commitment of the team and has come to appreciate the familial aspect of the sport, having to work together to reach a common goal. He is also motivated by the sense of fulfillment that reaching the finish line brings.

“It seems easy, but it’s really not,” said Luu. “Sometimes, you have to paddle for two minutes, other times it’s ten minutes. There is a lot of pain and you question why you are doing this at times. At the end of the race, though, no matter the result, you feel a sense of accomplishment.”

With much of the executive (Shulman, Ng and Vice President internal Athulya Ben) in their final semester of studies at Concordia in engineering, the group is already looking ahead to the future of the club. Turnover is to be expected on a yearly basis, with many members graduating. The club expects, however, that half of last year’s team will return for the upcoming season.

The current leadership group will occupy mentorship positions to new paddlers and offer one-on-one guidance to new recruits. The outgoing executive is also looking to find replacements for their positions in the next few months.

For now, the club is focusing on their work on the water with their first competition, the Lachine Knockout, scheduled to take place in just four months’ time.