Racing for Recovery

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Dragon Boat Racing NB

The 2,000-year-old sport is bringing cancer survivors together in Newport Beach.

By Molly Forster


Dragon boat racing, which dates back to ancient times in China, is available right here in town at the Newport Aquatic Center. This local dragon boat team, the first of its kind in Orange County, was founded 15 years ago and has competed regionally and even in China. The sport has proven to be increasingly popular across the country among amateur athletes as well as cancer survivors. According to various scientific studies, it was found that dragon boating can improve women’s physical and psychological health after going through breast cancer treatments. Here, Bob Cassidy, captain of the NAC dragon boat team, gives a behind-the-scenes look at being part of the team, including its many cancer survivors.


What type of workout do you get from paddling and which muscles are worked?

Bob Cassidy: Dragon boat races are short, so it’s a very intensive cardio activity and some anaerobic activity, as you’re really pushing it to finish up your race. In terms of muscles used, I think people generally believe it’s arms and shoulders, but it’s really not arms … nor is it shoulders, so much. You use your body’s core, and you rotate your core and your shoulders and then, as you straighten out the rotation, you’re applying the power to the paddle. When you … [rotate], you’re straightening out that leg and core and you’re engaging all of those muscles. So, it’s mostly cardio and core.


What kind of experience is needed to join the team?

There are no requirements to join our team other than the desire to do so. Dragon boat racing covers many spectrums of athletes. Our particular team tends to be a more senior team and we embrace all physical abilities. And we have many cancer survivors—I joke with the team that we could build a boat out of metal with as many surgeries and parts that we all have. That being said, once we get on the boat, we start getting pretty serious and we’re a really good group.

Could you describe a typical competition?

The competitions may run 75 to 100 teams [and] each boat has 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steersman. And the race may consist of four to eight boats at a time, depending on how many lanes are set up. The competitions are intense affairs and they run for several days. … We, as a group, will typically enter many divisions … and then allocate our members among the various divisions. So you could be racing anywhere between three and nine races in one day.


Is there any training required in the gym to improve strength and prepare for being in the boat?

Most members have some kind of a program outside of the boat. But it is certainly not a requirement. … As a group, we talk about shoulder exercises and we have a couple physical therapists on the team who can guide folks in keeping their shoulders intact and strong. Core exercises are also very helpful. I … have found rotator cuff exercises very helpful, as well, and these don’t have to be tremendous weights. Again, some of our paddlers are no longer young, if you will, so we particularly focus on doing lots of repetitions and doing weights that we can handle.


What are the challenges of dragon boat racing?

Paddling seems quite simple, but it is actually really complex. The biggest challenge, for me, is to get everyone paddling at the same time. We need to be touching the water at the same time but, more importantly, we need to be putting the power in at the same time. And when you get that together and you get a certain group that gels, it’s really fun.


In the Bag

Pack these essentials to get the most out of your day on the water.

In the Bag Accessories

Sweat-wicking sportswear, the ZERO GRAVITY RUN LEGGINGS and HOMESTRAIGHT RUN TANK are made of sculpting and quick-drying Italian fabric ideal for any athlete, $135 and $85, respectively, available with advance order, at Sweaty Betty, Lido Marina Village. (949-675-2562;

Protect your skin from harsh sun rays with 365 Everyday Value’s CLEAR SPRAY SUNSCREEN, which is both reef-safe and water resistant, $9.99, at Whole Foods, Fashion Island. (949-999-8572;

Dry off with the FLAMINGO FOUTA TOWEL by Tommy Bahama that comes complete with a drawstring bag for easy transport, $49.50, at Tommy Bahama, Fashion Island. (949-706-9928;


In the Bag Newport Beach

This limited edition BREAST CANCER AWARENESS BOTTLE by S’well is both functional and philanthropic, with a portion of proceeds being donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, $42, at Bloomingdale’s, Fashion Island. (949-729-6600;

Sport a stylish hat and your city pride with the NEWPORT BEACH WASH BALL CAP, available in various colors, so your competition knows who they’re up against, $38, at Faherty, Lido Marina Village. (949-612-7146;

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