The chatter stops.
As if one, the team leans forward in unison. Standing at the stern of the dragon boat, Macky Sumalileng commands the athletes to raise their paddles, poised and ready to strike the water of the Cattermole Slough. On his word they dig deep, pouring their energy into each focused movement.
The dragon boat pulses forward with every stroke. the repetitive motion pulls on the paddler’s cores — forward, backward, forward, backward. Faces strain, breathing increases and there’s the occasional grunting sound as the team push through the pain of their burning muscles.
Before it’s over, Sumalileng asks the crew of 20 to stroke faster and provide more power, pushing the paddlers toward the imaginary finish line. Then Sumalileng calls out their time. The uniformity is broken as people stretch and sit up. Breathing slows and the chatter strikes up again.
Originally from the Philippines, Sumalileng was introduced to dragon boating while practicing eskrima, a Filipino martial art simply know as stick fighting. The sports complemented one another, adding strength and stamina to his fighting game. Dragon boat racing steadily slid deeper into Sumalileng’s life. The team mentality hooked him, said the Squamish Dragon Boating Association’s assistant coach.
“It is like a family to us. We share experiences and little by little, we become a family,” he said.
That family is looking to grow, said Cathie Greenlees. As long as the good weather holds out, the group is inviting people interested in dragon boating to meet them at the gravel parking lot across from the Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. on Sundays at 3:45 p.m.
The Squamish group consists of one Division A racing Team — Chawanda — and other members who enjoy participating in the practices that take place three times a week. Up to 22 people can squeeze onto the association’s training boat.
“What we hope to do is build the club and people can decide their level of commitment. Our No. 1 goal is to get a mixed team,” Greenlees said, noting they’d like to increase the number of male members.
Greenlees started paddling through a course previously offered at Brennan Park Recreation Centre.
“It was always on my bucket list,” she said, noting she remembers being fascinated by dragon boating at Expo ’86.
It’s an exhilarating sport, she said. No matter one’s skill level or age, once you step into a dragon boat, every person is a crucial part of the team, Greenlees said.
“It is the quickest growing sport in Canada,” she said. “It can offer something to people at any age.”
For more information visit Squamish Dragon Boating on Facebook.