“Synchronised” vs “Caterpillar” Dragon Boat Paddling.

There is a firm belief in the dragon boat world that sychronised paddling stands above all the muscle and power athletes has to offer in a full boat. If paddlers are not synchronised to the two lead strokers, then more than likely the last two paddlers at the end of the boat will be out of sync. For example, a pair of paddlers takes their cue from the pair of paddlers sitting immediately in front of them, then each successive pair of blades hits the water a fraction of a second behind the blade just in front of them. This is similar to a domino effect or cascade / card deck riffle. So to an onshore observer, this resembles the movement of a many-legged caterpillar or centipede called the “Caterpillar” effect.

A great Dragon Boat contributor, Doug Sinclair wrote the following:

Out of Time

Out of Time

The “caterpillar” effect has it’s obvious problems:

  • You need room between paddlers to paddle clear water
  • Timing between paddlers would be much more difficult to manage
  • The boat run is constantly working against you because it never quite gets up to its sweet spot of speed where drag is minimal, thus your workload is constantly more than it needs to be.
  • How does the stroker know when to take the catch again?
  • How fast can you repeat the cycle before it totally fowls (when one gets out of sync)
  • The boat is effectively being paddled by the equivalent of about six people at one time (given the relativity of amounts of blade in the water at any one time), and if you’ve done training where 3 or four rows paddle and drag the passengers you will know how tiring that is

The benefits of sychronised paddling:

  • Absolute maximum power at one time to propel the boat forwards
  • The chance of a synergistic outcome from a combined effort
  • The boat run has sufficient momentum where all paddlers have a chance to take a graceful recovery and rest in that cycle of the process. Thus recovery of energy for better long distance endurance and more power per stroke consistently throughout the race
  • Synchronous paddling means you can go to whatever rate your crew can sustain and when needed you can switch the rate upwards very sharply for more gain such as in the lift to the end
  • Timing is easier for all paddlers because they take their lead from the stroke seat

Synchronised Paddling - Photo courtesy of David Liu

Synchronised Paddling - Photo courtesy of David Liu

Synergy = “The result is greater than the sum”

What do most people think? Do you believe that it’s important to keep in Sync with the whole crew or can it be possible that the Caterpillar effect may work in Dragon Boating?

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63 thoughts on ““Synchronised” vs “Caterpillar” Dragon Boat Paddling.

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