Ryerson's men's Dragon Boat team, the Thunderbuddies, at the Great White North Dragon Boat Challenge. Colleen Marasigan/The Eyeopener

Year of the Dragon (Boat)

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By Colleen Marasigan

Against the rain, wind and cold, the Thunderbuddies — Ryerson’s men’s Dragon Boat team — paddle their way across the water in Lane 5. Steeped in mud by the shore, their female counterparts — known as Rye and Ginger — cheer them on.

“It’s a two-minute race, but it’s not just about paddling hard. It’s about focus,” says Lisa Tai, assistant supervisor of Rye-D-Boat, the Ryerson Dragon Boat club. They have to be focused because, as Tai points out, there are 20 paddlers in the boat who all need to be in unison for the team to succeed.

Dragon boat racing, a sport that originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, also requires a steersperson to guide the boat, and a drummer to keep the paddlers in sync. Stroke after stroke, the men push on — determined to finish strong in spite of the weather. But it simply isn’t enough.

The race ends, and the Thunderbuddies lose. Yet they’re still greeted at the end of their race with warm smiles and high-fives from the Rye and Ginger team. It’s the 18th annual Great White North (GWN) Dragon Boat Challenge at Marilyn Bell Park, and while this regatta (series of boat races) is considered one of the most popular competitions of the year, it’s also Rye-D-Boat’s first real practice since July.

By October, the club plans to be practicing weekly in the RAC pool like in previous years. Tai says getting new members into paddling synchronization is their main goal.

Alex Wong, a third year industrial engineering student who has rowed with Rye-D-Boat for two years, knows this well.

“It’s all about team synchronization and chemistry,” he says. “If one person doesn’t function well, the whole team may be penalized for their actions.”

But Rye-D-Boat isn’t meant to solely be an athletic club, it’s about doing something students wouldn’t normally do, says club supervisor Nick Fan. It’s also a great networking opportunity, with many participants from various companies and charities rowing in regattas like the GWN.

“It’s not just for sport,” says Fan. “I want it to add to students’ experiences for their four years here at Ryerson.”

Fan has been with the club since its inception in 2003, and has seen rapid growth — since 2008 the club has gone from 24 members to a team of 80. For the 2012-2013 school year, Rye-DBoat has already gained 206 new registrants.

Fan adds that Rye-D-Boat has a nocut policy, so if an individual is committed, he or she is free to row in competitions. Rye-D-Boat has also seen an increase in the amount of races it competes in, participating in events in not only Toronto, but in Welland and Montreal as well.

The 2011-2012 season found all four Rye-D-Boat boats placing in the top three in their respective divisions at the premier level at the Toronto International Dragon Boat Festival.

“Medals are an insignificant part of Rye-D-Boat. It’s the memories that will last you a lifetime,” Fan says. “ But don’t get me wrong. We get medals, we get lots of medals.”

As if to prove his second point, Rye and Ginger then went on to take first place in the Women’s Consolation B Final at the GWN.

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