by Denise Davy
Ramsay Drummond-Young has just finished 17 kilometres of hard paddling with only one pit stop to refresh. Ramsay is in Florida and his rigorous morning paddle was part of a pre-season training camp that he’s attending to get himself ready for the season ahead. Over the summer, you’ll find him at Bayfront Park dipping his paddle into the water while sitting in his dragon boat.
At 64, Ramsay is an elite athlete in the world of paddlers. He has competed in three World Dragon Boat Championships (Rome, Poland and Toronto) and is an International Dragon Boat Federation Official. These days it’s more about his love of the sport, something that took hold some 16 years ago, than the competition. He had been active in white water rafting for many years when a friend introduced him to dragon boat racing. “I hadn’t heard of dragon boating but I fell in love with the sport. Kayaking is much more individual while dragon boating is you and a whole team, so there’s so much camaraderie,” said Ramsay, on the phone from Florida.
He decided to share his passion with others and started a dragon boat club, which he called Lively Dragon, which speaks to Ramsay’s focus. “I didn’t want a ferocious dragon. I wanted something that gave people the feeling of being friendly and lively, rather than crazy and competitive.” The club serves the Burlington/Hamilton area but also draws paddlers from Mississauga, Milton and Brantford. Ramsay makes his own boats and now has 18 in total, all crafted by Ramsay and his wife Jackie Taggart, who is also an avid paddler.
The original dragon boats from many centuries ago were made out of teak wood in the Pearl River Delta region of China’s southern Guangdong Province. Ramsay just wanted a practice boat but when he looked around they all had high prices tags of around $27,000. “I looked at it and thought, ‘I can do better than that’.” And he did. He designed all of his boats and built them out of fibreglass so they’re light and strong. The boats are 41 feet long and 46 inches wide and hold 20 paddlers, a drummer and steer person. Dragon boating dates back more than 2,000 years when it was a common water sport throughout southern China. Boats were larger and included 50 paddlers.
What Ramsay loves most about the sport is that people of all ages can participate. “One of our younger paddlers joined when she was 9 years old. She is still too young to paddle in festivals, but our older people are in their seventies,” said Ramsay. “The beauty of dragon boating is that whatever level you’re at, you can do it. We’re not going to say if you can’t do 100 pushups you can’t be with us. We truly believe in getting people to come out and participate and enjoy the outdoors.”
They now have about 200 members, and about 60 of them hit the water every Monday and Thursday evening, from April into December. Every fall, their members take a 27 kilometre paddle down the Grand River. Not that competing isn’t part of the fun. Their website is filled with dates and times for races, including one in Hamilton at the beginning of July. Still, Ramsay stresses it’s community over competition and that dragon boating’s real lure is in the way it inspires teamwork. “We’re competitive but we’re a community team over anything else,” said Ramsay.
Down in Florida, Ramsay and Jackie will paddle at least 100 km over the next week. Jackie is no slouch in the world of dragon boat racing either and has raced in several world championships.
“You may come home from work and you don’t feel like exercising, but you feel like you can’t let the team down. So you come out and then you’re thrilled that you did because you feel great after. If it was that rowing machine in your basement, you wouldn’t use it.”
Lively Dragon, Hamilton