Paddling their Way to Success in Life

Dragon boat racing began 2,000 years ago – but it did not begin in rivers or seas. It used to happen in muck during the summer solstice to awaken the heavenly dragon from its hibernation. Another story says that these dragon boats were used by villagers to rescue the beloved poet Qu Yuan as they rowed in sync with the drumbeat that mimicked the dragon’s heart. The sport has become beloved all over the world, allowing enthusiasts to meet and congregate in different parts of the globe for both local and international competitions. Here in the Philippines, it’s not hard to believe the popularity of the sport since the country is surrounded by water.

Dragon boat racing instills discipline and determination in paddlers. It teaches them to work together as a team, but that individual strength is also important. Dragon boat racing changes the way you move, think and react to things. As a former paddler myself, I can attest to this – but you don’t have to take my word for it. We asked other paddlers how dragon boat racing has changed their lives and here are their responses:


Leonard Malana

Team/s: De La Salle University Dragon Boat Team, Philippine Titans, and United Paddlers Club (UPC)

Bow or Stroke: Bow

Years Paddling: 10 years

Best memory: So many to choose from!

To list a few:

2010 – Penang Int’l Dragon Boat Festival U23 300M & 500M Champion

2011 – Shanghai DBA Festival. 3KM and 500M 2nd place overall

2012 – Team Captain of DLSU DBT

2017 – PCKDF Palawan Int’l Dragon Boat Competition 7 golds and 1 silver.

2018 – 2nd Paoay Lake Dragon Boat Competition – sweep of 6 golds in all categories.

Team bondings in training and the group breakfast after.

How has being a dragon boat paddler impacted your lifestyle (mentally/physically/spiritually)?

Dragon Boat helped me come out of my shell. I learned how to communicate and interact with different types of people. I am surprised that I evolved from a timid and shy person to a person with decent people skills. Mentally dragon boat made me more resilient to challenges and not to waver from a goal. Because of dragon boat I am always motivated to do better, whether at home, hobbies, or at work. Physically, dragon boat helped me instill discipline with my body. I watch what I eat and take necessary activities to stay healthy. Spiritually in dragon boat it became quite clear to me that God only rewards those who are deserving and that means doing your part to achieve what you pray for. Praying for something without putting the necessary effort will get you nowhere. In some ways I try to apply the same view in work or personal life. Actively working for the things you want and having faith in the path that you took.

Why should people join or try dragon boat paddling?

It is immensely fun in a lot of ways.

You will meet a lot of friends and some of these will be your friends for life. The level of connection you develop in this sport is quite deep because you do things together quite literally like training, eating, road trips, sleepovers, and etc. The bonds you develop with your teammates do really last for many years.

It can do wonders for you physically. You will be surprised what your body can do when you give your mind to it. Also, it feels great to be surrounded by people motivating you during exercises.

Lastly, it helps you develop a healthy mindset. Being open to suggestions, working towards a goal, positive training environment, and just teaches you to have that proper attitude to face challenges.


Camille Cobb

Team/s: DLSU – Manila, OH Warriors – Toronto

Bow or Stroke: Stroke

Years Paddling: 6

Best memory: Teammate bondings pre, during, and post competitions. Specifically the IDBF regattas in Boracay. 

How has being a dragon boat paddler impacted your lifestyle (mentally/physically/spiritually)?

It trained me how to balance and manage my time wisely (juggling both school/work and training can be overwhelming). It helped me condition my body and mind. It also taught me discipline and commitment when it comes to eating healthy and showing up to practice ready and on time.

Why should people join or try dragon boat paddling?

Besides the physical muscle gain, paddling brings you to breathtaking places and lets you meet people from different parts of the world. It also molds you to have a strong mindset, which can overall be beneficial in life. 


Lance Esquillo

Team/s: DLSU Dragonboat Team, United Paddlers Club

Bow or Stroke: Bow

Years Paddling:

Best memory: First competition in Palawan. It’s my first time to travel and compete with a solid group of people and it’s very surreal to me at the same time. 

How has being a dragon boat paddler impacted your lifestyle (mentally/physically/spiritually)?

Mentally, dragon boat taught me how to endure pain. As well as it gave me a strong sense of discipline because of the early training from Tuesdays-Fridays (or even Saturdays). It was also a saving grace for me back in university days because studying alone was boring and dragon boat was something meaningful and purposeful at that time

On the physical side, I owe it all to this sport. Aside from physique, I got enlightened about being a high-performance athlete and it’s not all about being the biggest guy on the boat. 

Why should people join or try dragon boat paddling?

People should join dragon boat paddling because
1) You get to be in touched with the sea (if that’s your thing)

2) It teaches you how to be one with other people because there’s 10 or 20 of you who’s going to make the boat move forward 

3) You get to travel and compete at the same time. Beaches, Bays, Lakes, etc all sorts of bodies of water you get to paddle in and if you’re a water-loving person, that’s a total win.


Ian Ulpindo

Team/s: University of the Philippines Dragon Boat Team

Bow or Stroke: Bow Side

Years Paddling: 10 years

Best memory: 

After years of making it to the semi-finals, our men’s team won a gold medal at the 2013 Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival. We also won a gold medal at the 2013 Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Festival in the Costume category, dressed as a box of crayons. 

How has being a dragon boat paddler impacted your lifestyle (mentally/physically/spiritually)?

Dragon boat jump-started my motivation to keep fit and lead a healthy lifestyle. It’s inspired me to pursue the feeling of accomplishment as an individual and as part of a team. It improved my self-esteem, focus, and trained me in overcoming fears, and applying mental toughness in other aspects of my life. I’m not easily fazed or rattled by life’s challenges because managing my emotions and reactions has been honed as a dragon boat athlete. 

Why should people join or try dragon boat paddling?

Dragon boat is one of the most inclusive sports out there. People of all ages, fitness levels, and genders can join – this is one of the few sports where mixed-gender teams are commonplace. It fosters team spirit, coordination, and the idea that there are no superstars or main characters in life; you’re only good if you learn to move as one unit.


Jade Santos

Team/s: DLSU DBT

Bow or Stroke: Stroke

Years Paddling: 3? 4? Hahaha

Best memory:

The best memory I have is probably crossing the finish line with the women’s team during the finals in Pagsanjan. It was our first race of the year, and I remember how everyone was crying (as in ugly crying) on the way back to the dock – and the men’s team thought that we were sad for placing second. But it was a collective cry of joy for being able to place knowing that everyone in that boat was giving their all because of their love for the sport and for each other. 

How has being a dragon boat paddler impacted your lifestyle (mentally/physically/spiritually)?

It helped my mind handle waking up at 4AM every day to go to Manila Bay to train, but I look forward to seeing how beautiful those murky waters are each time the sun shows up on the dark horizon. It strengthened my body (one side more than the other hahaha) to be able to handle training with our coach, who was a Marine. Spiritually, I guess dragon boating helped hone who I am now – to be at peace with what life has to bring, both wins and losses. Most of all, the biggest impact rowing made in my life was meeting some of the best people I have now. My teammates were the reason I rowed stronger – because I knew they were doing the same for me, and for everyone in that boat. 

Why should people join or try dragon boat paddling?

More than it being an exciting and fun sport, it can show you strengths that you never knew you had. It can introduce you to a whole new community of people from different walks of life and learn from them. So do it!


If you ever have the opportunity to join a dragon boat team training, or even just watch a race – I highly encourage it. You’ll not only witness camaraderie and sportsmanship but the breath of new life into an activity that is so deeply rooted in ancient Chinese culture.

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