The caller is perched at the head of the boat facing the team with a drum placed between his legs.
Members paddle faster as the tempo of the drum increases.
As the members work in unison, the Long Beach State Dragon Boat Club propels its 40-foot-long boat through the two-and-a-half mile-long stretch with the dragon head at the bow seemingly leading the way.
Every weekend the echoing drums and dazzling dragon boats fill the Long Beach Shoreline Marina for team practices.
Often confused with rowing, dragon boat racing uses the movement of paddling to drive the boat instead of requiring a full-body motion.
“Rowing is a little more posh, nothing against that, but dragon boating, we’re a little more rugged we’re kind of mucking it out here,” said co-coach Vedant Sinha, a second-year political science major, who has been paddling for six years.
The boat seats 20 paddlers, a caller who controls the pace, and a certified sternsman who steers the boat.
“It’s unison paddling,” Sinha said, “the idea is that it promotes teamwork and synchronization so people are working towards a common goal.”
Dragon boat racing originated in south-central China and still celebrates its heritage today. It was popularized in Hong Kong with its annual dragon boat festival and was originally intended to attract tourists, but has since grown into an international event.
Race boats are decorated with brightly colored dragon scales intricately painted or engraved on the sides and a large dragon head mounted at the front.
Long Beach has a flourishing community of dragon boat races and will host two major events this year at Marine Stadium. One is scheduled April 26 and the other will be a two-day event held July 25 and 26.
The marina is sectioned off for competitions and hundreds of tents are set up along Mother’s Beach with competitors ranging from high school to professional international teams.
Each team in the competition enters its “A” boat which boasts its best paddlers. From there, where boats end up depends on how well the team performs during the qualifying rounds.
The marina is shared like a highway system with incoming boats veering to the left, passing slower boats on the right. In a competition setting, each team is given a designated straight lane down the water that other boats are expected not to cross.
Every weekend, Mother’s Beach is flooded with visiting schools such as USC, UCLA and UC Riverside, all looking to practice for the next competition.
Dragon boat racing relies heavily on communication to ensure teammates from the front of the boat to the tail know the pace set by the caller.
“Unlike rowing, where they just have a megaphone, we have a drum we use for different beats and different calls,” said co-captain Simon Chau, a second-year molecular-cell biology/physiology major.
The club is currently preparing for its next competition in Tempe, Arizona held at the end of March.
The CSULB Dragon Boat Club began in 2014 and consists of 18 active members, both men and women, ranging from beginner to expert.
According to Sinha, Dragon boat racing is a great sport geared towards anyone beginning their fitness journey or that wants to be active on weekends.
“The beauty about dragon boating is that the movement is very simple,” Sinha said. “It’s something that you can pick up in a month, that’s what’s great about this sport. It’s super inclusive, literally, anyone can do it.”
Often times new members are paired with veterans on the boat to ease them into the pace of paddling and build up chemistry.
“I decided to come to a practice so my friends could stop telling me about it,” said Xochilt Andrade, a second-year journalism major. “Even though I got sick because it was winter season, I ended up really liking it.”
The dragon boat club is at the end of its recruitment period but is always open to taking new members. The club meets Saturday’s and Sunday’s from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Mother’s Beach.
For students interested in more information contact the club through its Instagram @csulb_db.