A duo of dragon boats plowed through the opaque water of Tempe Town Lake against a colorful sunset backdrop to the west. Calls such as "power ten" were yelled out by the boat steerers to the club members, sitting side by side and driving their paddles into the water in response.
This is how ASU's Dragon Boat club starts and ends their week: rushing through different drills and sprints while going up and down the lake multiple times. Monday night was a challenging practice but encouragement came often, sometimes in the form of a fist bump which travelled up and down the boat and among the sequence of rowers.
"The more in-sync the boat is, the faster you'll go," said ASU Dragon Boat Club president Ivy McNeil, a junior studying supply chain management and data analytics.
Practices happen every Saturday from 8- 10:30 a.m. and every Monday from 6- 8:30 p.m. in preparation for festivals. Modern dragon boat competitions can take the form of a 500-meter race at festivals across the country.
The scale-sided boats outfitted with a dragon head and tail can fit up to 20 people, but the name is not just for show.
Historians differ on their respective explanations for the emergence of dragon boats in ancient China, but the racing of the unique vessels began during the fifth- or sixth-century A.D. in honor of Qu Yuan.
ASU’s Dragon Boat club was founded in 2009 by the president of the ASU Asian Coalition at the time.
Francisco Lucas Torres, the club's current vice president and a junior studying biomedical engineering, predicted that the club will have at least 30 concurrent members this season – a large jump from the club’s COVID-19 years now that students can participate fully in the dragon boat experience.
Savannah Gallagher, a sophomore studying preveterinary medicine on the Polytechnic campus, said she joined in order to have more engagement with her Tempe peers.
"I already did kayaking on the side as a hobby," Gallagher said, who had joined the previous weekend. "I really like how friendly everyone was. When I joined, everyone immediately came up greeted me, helped me out, and they’re super supportive and here to help you learn."
Other club members said that interested students should consider joining dragon boat even if they don’t have any experience.
"I recommend it because it’s a great way to get you fit in the water,” said Kylie Saba, a junior studying political science. "It's a really great community, and you get to know everyone so well."
To prospective members who are worried about the heat, Sonoran Fox, a sophomore studying architecture, said it is something rowers can persevere through.
"You don't even think about the weather, you don't even think about the heat or rain or whatever," Fox said. "You just think about pushing through and enjoying that race with the team."
Practice ends the moment the boats are docked at the marina. As all of the participants disembarked, they formed a high-five line — a cheerful way to end an hours-long session that had been difficult but done with the support of each team member.
Outside of practice, members go and work out at the Sun Devil Fitness Center during the week to keep up their strength. There are also out-of-town festivals where members can go to and race.
The festivals are mostly paid for by the club, including travel and accommodations, but members do have to pay certain fees. There’s a $55 annual fee that largely goes toward festival catering, a $70 Arizona Dragon Boat Association (AZDBA) fee and a $25 fee to join the club.
However, interested students can still try dragon boat without paying the fees. They can fill out an AZDBA guest membership form for a 30-day free trial and test out the club.
If prospective members go on a Monday night, they can experience a sunset on the water, which for many, is a reward for the strenuous time spent on the dragon boat. To dragon boat veteran Brittany Whitesides, a junior studying supply chain management, the team is her "third place" away from work and school.
"I'm a huge advocate for having something outside of school and work," Whitesides said. "I believe that everyone should have something that kind of helps lower your stress levels."
She also emphasized how dragon boat has taught her many lessons, one of them being that "what you're gonna put in is what you're gonna get out."
"I think dragon boat really teaches people life lessons, without having to strongly learn those life lessons the hard way, but this way you can learn them the fun way," Whitesides said.
Editor's Note: Kylie Saba worked at The State Press during the Fall 2022 semester.
Edited by Grey Gartin, Alexis Waiss, Shane Brennan
Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.