By Daniel Rocchi
The largest indoor dragon boat event ever held in Canada was hosted by the Ryerson Dragon Boat club — Rye-D-Boat — at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) on Saturday. More than one hundred post-secondary athletes paddled in either individual or group competitions for the second annual Ontario University Indoor Dragon Boat Championships.
“It’s good to see everybody’s still so enthusiastic about it in the off-season and all in all I think it’s great for the sport,” Alex Kwok, a fourth-year kinesiology student at Queen’s University and winner of the men’s competitive heavyweight division, said.
Kwok was one of two paddlers competing at the MAC that have raced dragon boats for Canada in international waters. He and Drew Gildner, who finished second behind Kwok and studies accounting at Guelph University, competed at the 11th World Nations Championships in Szeged, Hungary, last year.
Their showdown in the heavy weight division was the final race of the day — and probably the most energetic. But the day wasn’t just about the competitions. The men’s and women’s individual races had both competitive and rookie divisions and newcomers were encouraged to try the paddle machines at the beginning of the day.
“Today people saw… that it’s for everyone,” said club supervisor and Ryerson alumnus Nick Fan. “It could be the people that are doing the under-two-minutes national times to the person who just started.”
Fan was the driving force behind bringing the championships to Ryerson. He was at the inaugural event last year — when it was hosted in the gymnasium of a Guelph retirement home — and thought that the facilities at the MAC would be much more fitting for the event. Fan said he saw a golden opportunity for both the sport and the school that he’s been involved with for the better part of a decade.
“People are going to know that Ryerson held a great dragon boating event and people are going to start recognizing that, ‘hey, you know what? This school, they’re on the right track’,” Fan said.
To allow the dragon boat paddlers to race inside the MAC, each competitor used an ergometer that was brought in for the day, called MultiStroke. The exercise machines replicate the feel of the water by having an individual sit at one end of the machine and paddle a black rod attached to a tension chord. Each machine then has an onboard console that provides real time data feedback. So while the students paddled, animated boats depicting their individual relative positions were projected onto a large screen.
Ryerson dominated these machines and was awarded first place in both the women’s heavyweight and men’s lightweight divisions and Jomar Cruz took bronze in the men’s heavyweight division behind Kwok and Gildner.
But Ryerson didn’t always have a strong dragon boat racing community. Fan recalls a time when the club had 16 participants. Now he reports that last year’s group boasted about 130 members and this season’s numbers are heading in that direction again. Fan said that Rye-D-Boat is one of the largest clubs at Ryerson and one of the largest school dragon boat clubs in Canada. Last year, the team was so large that there were five separate boat crews — each one tiered for a different level of competitiveness.
The club is also unique because unlike most of its student-run counterparts at other schools, it is operated through Ryerson’s department of athletics and is licensed to use Ryerson’s colours, logos and other identifiers.
“One thing that I’m extremely proud of and thankful for, is the amount of support that we get from our university,” Fan said. “I talk to other coaches and captains, and they don’t get the same level of recognition, so we’re extremely fortunate.”