Spring Training!

April is here and new paddlers and veterans are hitting the water a few times a week to get ready for races that are coming up in just a couple months. This time of year one question comes up over and over: What should I bring and wear?

Let’s do the equipment part first because it’s easy. You need three things:

1. Paddle – dragon boaters use specific paddles, similar but not exactly like canoe paddles (unless you paddling Portland’s Taiwanese style boats, in which case they are canoe paddles from Sawyer). There are clunky ones available to borrow from the club locker or fancy ones to buy from area paddle suppliers such as Next Adventure Paddle Sports or Double Fifth Dragon Boating.

2. PFD – That’s a Personal Floatation Device, y’all. Also known as a life vest. Or if you leave it in your car trunk (or, say a dockside locker) for a few days after practice it might be Pretty F—-ing Disgusting. These are also available to borrow from the club locker but you probably won’t do that for long.

3. Water Bottle – It’s amazing how thirsty you can get in just a few minutes of paddling. You could easily drink a liter in 45 minutes.

Okay so what about clothes? This gets a lot more subjective and not just because we’re slaves to fashion. So here are some general guidelines:

Wicking Fabrics – Whether there is rain in the forecast, whether you have an infamous splasher sitting behind you, or if you’re just working really hard, you’re going to get wet. Sports fabrics like Dri-fit or Capilene will let sweat and water evaporate and not hold it to your skin. Cotton is strictly verboten!

Layers – through the Spring especially, we start off cold and get warm really fast. So you want to have some layers you can peel off at the first break. A base layer (or two) of Dri-fit type fabric, some light fleece, and a breathable rain shell might be used in some combination, depending on the weather.

To address a delicate matter directly, one layer to be particular about is the one on your butt. That’s your primary point of contact and therefore friction with the boat. There are padded paddling shorts and there are pads you can put on the seat to achieve a similar effect. Now almost every brand of under layer has boxer-length Dri-fit type briefs. Multiple layers on your butt can mean the friction occurs between fabrics instead of making scar tissue on your sit spots.

Shoes – Even if it’s not raining and there’s no splashing going on, the boats often have water sloshing around in them. Wear water shoes, Chacos, old sneakers – whatever you’re okay with having soaking wet. Get them dry again as soon as you can after practice or the stench will drive you from your home. Neoprene booties that can be worn with Chacos or Keens make a great layer for the colder months that can then be dropped when the temperatures get more favorable.

Other Stuff

  • Gloves? Sure. There are special paddling gloves if you like. Or you can wear pink acrylic ones – we don’t judge.
  • Sunglasses? I recommend cheap ones and/or Croakies to hold them on. The Willamette is a mass graveyard of nice sunglasses, and those are just mine.
  • Speaking of which, if you can do without your prescription glasses, best not to bring them on the boat. If you do, put Croakies on ’em. Your vision plan isn’t going to cover a new pair every month, now, is it?


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