With the broad stroke of a paddle to the beat of a drum, dozens work in unison to move across the glassy waters of Castaic Lake’s lower lagoon.
Every Sunday morning, paddlers of all ages, sizes and experience levels gather on the lakeshore, placing what appears to be an oversized canoe into the water and embarking on their dragon boats.
Dragon boat racing is a testament to true teamwork, as a team of 20 paddlers must work together for the boat to move.
“They say once you paddle, you’ve made 20 friends because you’re all (paddling) together … that’s the cool part,” said Paul Lin, the Castaic dragon boat team’s captain.
The sport dates back 2,500 years to China and supporters say it’s now one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world.
“It’s a sport for all ages,” added Drew Perez, team manager. “We have toddlers, kids all the way up… I paddled with someone that’s 85 years old.”
Dragon boat racing came to Castaic Lake in August 2015 after Dr. Howard Chen of the Long Beach dragon boat team donated a couple of boats, helping to kick-start the local club.
“We were trying to do more cultural outreach … (and) get different types of recreation, especially at the lakes,” said Hayden Sohm, who was deputy director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation at the time.
It was Chen who challenged Sohm to create a dragon boat program in northern L.A. County, as there was already one in Long Beach and at the Santa Fe Dam, with the county then stepping up to buy additional boats after the team was formed.
“It’s turned out really well, and the thing that’s really cool about it is the diversity of our team,” added Sohm, who joined the team himself after retiring. “We’ve got such a cool group of people, all age groups, all nationalities.”
Team Dragon Eyes calls Castaic Lake home. The team’s name pays homage to its home lake, as the Indian word Castaic means vision, while its dragon emblem is even made in the shape of the upper lake.
Through the pandemic, the team pivoted to using OC1, a one-man outrigger canoe, to accommodate for physical distancing, which allowed the team to continue getting together on the water.
It was around that same time that some of the team’s members decided to take their paddling a step farther, choosing to train to join the U.S. national team, which worked out perfectly as they had to use the OC1s for their time trials.
“It was really tough because we had no idea how to use the OCs when we first started — it’s a whole different animal,” head coach Rey Pascua said.
Pascua only started paddling in 2017, but his passion quickly grew, and soon, he found himself training at least two hours, sometimes four, every day.
“We were here like every morning,” Pascua added. “It took a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication.”
Their hard work seemed to have paid off, as four members of the Castaic team ended up making the 30-person team out of more than 200-300 applicants nationally.
Among those who made the national team is 14-year-old Varun Prakash, who, as the team’s drummer, also did time trials, which he said involved a lot of training, but was worth it.
“It keeps the tempo of the boat to let everyone know how to go,” Prakash said of drumming.
Prakash trained hard to make the team, shaving almost a minute off his time through practice.
For Prakash, it’s the social aspect that drew him in, and he has since found his passion for the sport.
“I have a lot of friends here, and it’s super fun to bond with people and paddle together,” he added.
Throughout the year the Castaic Lake Dragon Boat Club hosts events, including an Easter egg hunt, which became an annual occurrence after gaining popularity, allowing participants to search for “eggs” both on and off the water.
Additionally, the club hosts an annual Dragon Boat Festival, which they hope to bring back next year.
The Castaic Lake Dragon Boat Club accepts paddlers of all ages and sizes, from beginners to experts, and meets Sunday mornings at Castaic Lake’s lower lagoon, located at 32132 Castaic Lake Drive. For more information, visit castaiclakedragonboat.com or email [email protected].