On Tuesday morning, 40 young paddlers tested the waters as they hopped onto dragon boats and paddled out into the Castaic Lake Lower Lagoon.
Led by volunteers and members of the lake’s dragon boat team, Dragon Eyes, children from ages 5 and up learned about paddling techniques and practiced in two 20-man boats as part of the free Spring Break Junior Paddle Clinic.
“It was really fun to see these kids come together,” said Lisa Ely, a Dragon Eyes paddler who led the Junior Paddle Clinic. “These 40 kids didn’t know each other, but when they started stretching they were instantly a team.”
Of the 40 paddlers, 34 were brand new to the sport, according to Ely.
“It [dragon boat racing] doesn’t take a lot of private coaching. We didn’t have to have practice after practice,” Ely said. “In about 40 minutes these kids were racing.”
Ely herself is new to the sport. She joined the Dragon Eyes team one year ago after attending the team’s Easter Egg Hunt on the lake.
“A year ago I didn’t even know this lake was here or what dragon boating was,” she said. “And now I’m addicted to it.”
A year ago she also began volunteering to host junior clinics and coach the junior paddling team. She thought hosting two clinics during spring break would be a great way to introduce children and their parents to the sport.
Ely shared news of the free clinics by posting in community groups of Facebook and was shocked by the response and interest she received.
“Before I knew it we had more than 80 kids wanting to try it,” she said.
Meena Yeshala signed her two children, ages 7 and 10, up for the clinic after seeing Ely’s post in her community page.
“It was so awesome, I was looking for something fun my kids could do during the day,” Yeshala said. “I was glad they had a chance to do it today.”
Xochilth Baca brought her two children, ages 7 and 8, to the clinic to introduce them to something new.
“They were excited for this,” she said. “Lisa was talking about the summer program they have and my kids would love to do that.”
Sixth grade student Matthew Strong, 12, said he had heard of dragon boating before, but he never participated in the sport.
“I’ve never done dragon boating so it will be a fun experience,” he said.
During the clinic, students learned about the proper way to hold a dragon boat paddle by using “A-frame form,” both hands and a T-grip.
They also learned about the different positions in the boat including the caller who leads the team as they stroke and the steersperson who directs the boat in the water.
“Every boat has a caller in the front,” Ely said. “It’s really cool because the caller gets to play the drum and that gives you the beat to paddle.”
Jazelle Gottfredson, 8, also raised her hand to tell the group how important it was to work as a team.
“Teamwork is the important part,” she said. “You want to work together to steer the boat.”
The two boats practiced their paddling on the water before racing one another and cheering on their teammates in the middle of the lake.
In the future, Ely hopes to create more junior paddling options, like weekly practices, for children to participate in the sport.
Community members are also welcome to attend the free Dragon Eyes community boating practices Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 a.m.
“Everyone comes from all different parts of the community,” Ely said. “You can be all different ages and all different levels of athletic abilities.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_