An Exclusive Look Inside UWDBC! Head Coach Evan Trafford on the Future of Dragon Boat, Strength & Conditioning, and His #1 Tip for Beginner Athletes

Dragon Boat racing  is growing, and fast.

The revolution is bringing on a new generation of athletes. Both young and old, competitive and recreational, people from all walks of life come to compete in this feat of strength, endurance, grit and perseverance.

One of the top University teams in Ontario, the University of Waterloo Dragon Boat Club, manages to bring together a staggering mix of dedicated individuals who want to improve their bodies, push their limits and represent their colours on the world stage.

We were honoured to sit down with Evan Trafford, Head Coach of the UWDBC, and pick his brain and uncover his thoughts on the sport of dragon boat, strength and conditioning and more.

“Evan is a former competitive paddler with over 10 year’s experience. He has competed at the national and international level earning multiple medals in sprint canoe/kayaking and dragon boating. After retiring in 2007 Evan focused on his coaching career gaining accreditations in theoretical as well as practical sport specific coaching. While attending the University of Waterloo Evan returned to paddling, coaching the UWDBC.” – UWDBC

Let’s get started.


1. Hi Evan, thanks for your time today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hey guys, thanks for having me.

Currently I’m the co-head coach of both the University of Waterloo Dragon Boat Club, and the Waterloo Paddling Club, which is a multi-discipline paddling club that Ricky Tjandra and I started in the Waterloo region to bring paddlesports into the community.

This year I’m coaching the Waterloo Paddling Club’s premier team, the UWDBC competitive team, a University of Waterloo staff/faculty/alumni team, and mentoring the various programs running throughout the club, like high school, breast cancer, as well as our recreational program.

I started paddling when I was 10, and started with flatwater canoeing and kayaking at the Carleton Place Canoe Club. I currently work for a startup tech company, and on top of coaching I head up the DBC Student Racing Council which is trying to solve a lot of issues within the post-secondary dragon boat community.


2. We have a lot of different readers on the site. For those who don’t know, quickly tell us a bit about dragon boat and what it involves.

Dragon boating gets it’s roots from ancient festivals in China, and is still regarded as a great source of pride and tradition within the country. In it’s modern incarnation, dragon boating is a sport in which 22 individuals (20 paddlers, a drummer and a coxswain) paddle a large canoe, and race against other teams. The athletes are seated next to each other in 10 rows along the boat and use specially designed paddles specific to the sport.


3. How did you get into dragon boat? What made you pick this sport over others?

I paddled canoe for a long time and loved the time spent training and racing with friends. I got to go to a lot of great places as a young teen, like Florida training camps, and all across the country for competitions. When it came to deciding between paddling and University, I chose school.

I was burnt out from the amount of competitions and training that I needed a break. Worst decision of my life. I missed it. I wanted to paddle again but I realized the time I missed is not something you can easily get back.

I got an opportunity to join a team a former training partner had become a part of, and they had qualified for the Club Crew World Championships in Malaysia. I saw this as an opportunity to paddle again, and jumped at it. We came back with 2 silvers and a bronze, and I was happy to be able to paddle again.



4. How has Strength & Conditioning contributed to your development as an athlete and to your team?

Personally, I have never been stronger.

Previously I had embellished the “no pain, no gain” philosophy of training as being the right way to do things. 12 km morning runs, weights, conditioning, 2-3 workouts a day. No wonder I burnt out. Having a team who can show you the right way to periodize and program is a huge asset. It’s like hacking your training.

I put 40 pounds on my 3 rep deadlift in just a couple of months, and I was already lifting way over 4 plates. Additionally my conditioning feels just as strong while doing less of it. It’s crazy.




Team wise, I find it’s a cornerstone of making great paddlers, quickly.

People who come into dragon boat at the University level are usually great former athletes who are looking for something competitive, more than beer leagues. On the other hand, there are people who haven’t been athletic at a high level and like the sport and the teamwork.

It’s a hard schism between the two, and the way I find to fix this is through athlete creation. Getting those former athletes on an Strength & Conditioning program pushes their current abilities. We’re teaching people who have never picked up a dumbbell, never learned the proper way to move, squat, re-teaching them motor patterns and muscle recruitment so they can handle learning the techniques required for paddling.

When we hit the water in the spring we’ve got a great base of athletes who can learn technique well. Dragon boat technique is not rocket science like flatwater or individual paddle sports. There’s not as much to think about: you wont tip, you don’t have to worry about balance or steering. There’s less to teach and teaching it to individuals with an athletic base is easy.

On the team morale side of things, it’s great to see a variety of athletes who are constantly pushing each other. Most of the exercises are generalized or similar so there’s no shortage of training partners or athletes in your class pushing you to be better.

The stronger athletes provide inspiration to newer athletes. Along with hard working role models, they show that they can get there, too.


5. Where do you see the future of the sport going and how Strength & Conditioning can contribute?

I’d like to see more standardized fitness tests that actually have merit from legitimate strength coaches who understand the physical needs and demands of the sport, rather than every coach making up their own.

I think the sport needs an audit in those terms. You have guys mixing and matching exercises they think to be “sport specific” that you would never see in any standardized athlete testing.

I see S&C and the benefits it can provide already working for a number of teams, the development of dragon boat is moving quick and no longer can you train a couple times a week and still be top tier. The schism between fun teams and competitive teams is growing further everyday and I think with better knowledge and programming, the community can push further.


6. How can people get involved with Dragon Boat and what would be your Number #1 tip for them?

Dragon boat is one of Canada’s fastest growing sports. There are teams in just about every city. All it takes is a quick Google search and you can find many resources that can help guide you towards what level and area you’d like to be a part of.

My number one tip for beginners is just to go do it. Don’t be scared, and don’t be intimidated by competitive teams. Try racing and you’ll be hooked.

For a competitive paddler, I’d tell them to get on a great program that focuses on strength and conditioning. One legged bosu ball squats may look cool, but they’re not going to help you as much as being able to hit reps of double body weight in the squat rack. If your program isn’t periodized the same as your teammates, or focus on the same things, you’re just hurting your team. It’s a team sport after all.


7. How can people get a hold of you if they want to join one of your teams?

You can find us on:

– Our official club website


– and Twitter


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