Join the Club: SFU Shockwave

“Wait, SFU has a competitive dragon boat team?” – Everyone

SFU Shockwave. Photo by Jennifer Low

Written and photographed by Jennifer Low, Peak Associate 

If you happen to be walking along False Creek near Science World at the right time, you might just catch a glimpse of SFU’s Dragon Boat team, SFU Shockwave, out on the water. The team is a tight-knit group of both beginner and experienced paddlers. They practice together two to three times a week, and can be found representing SFU at various dragon-boating events.

Having never watched dragon boating before, I was not quite sure what to expect as I hopped off the SkyTrain at Main Street—Science World Station. It was a beautiful August evening, as the smog hadn’t set in yet, and there was barely a cloud in sight, predicting an incredible sunset. From the moment I entered the Creekside Community Center and met up with the very welcoming team, I knew I was about to witness something truly special.

For those unfamiliar with the human-powered aquatic sport, according to the International Dragon Boat Federation website, dragon boating is said to have begun in southern China more than 2,000 years ago. At that time, it was used as a way to ensure a prosperous harvest season.

In later years, Dragon Boat races honoured the sacrifice of Qu Yaun, a great warrior poet in ancient China who committed suicide in the Mi Lo river in protest of political corruption. Today, it is widely considered “one of the world’s most popular sports” and one of “the fastest growing international team water sport” by various dragon-boating organizations.

A standard dragon boat holds 18–20 team members, consisting of a group of paddlers, a caller or drummer, and a steersperson. Every position plays a vital role in the team effort and group harmony. The name of the sport comes from the intricately carved boats, each of which is adorned with a carved head at the bow, a tail in the stern, painted dragon scales along the hull, and paddles symbolizing claws.

Even though the team was merely running a practice and not competing, I was surprised by the incredible speed of the sport. It was not surprising that recreational boats, ferries, and others out on the water all seemed captivated by the sight of SFU Shockwave as they passed by. The spectators could only applaud their teamwork and skill.

I was also completely blown away by the amazing level of communication and cooperation within the team. They seemed to intuitively understand one another. Despite the fact that coaches sat on a completely different boat, their ability to converse with the students on the team seemed effortless.

One of the coaches, Earl Villarosa, who has been with the team since the beginning, shared their origin story with me. SFU Shockwave was officially started about two years ago by a group of friends who fell in love with dragon boating. Upon realizing that there was no team at SFU, they decided to start one.  Villarosa describes SFU Shockwave as a group of “fun, hardworking, and focussed” individuals.

When asked to name his favorite thing about the team, Earl said “We’re actually all, you know, friends, so that’s super nice. We always […] hang out after practice, go get food, and [go to] beaches…” The group’s close, friendly, and fun dynamic, strengthened by the team’s bonding activities, clearly translates to their performance out on the water. Their enthusiasm and positive energy is infectious.

“One of the great things about dragon boating is that it’s also super easy to pick up,” Earl says, “It’s very accessible.”  This comes as no surprise, as the sport is known for being inclusive of a wide range of skill levels. From watching the adept cooperation and synchronized movements of the paddlers, you would never guess that about half them hadn’t touched a paddle until nine months ago. Earl states that it’s merely a matter of putting in the time and effort.

“We’re all here for each other,” he adds, noting that having such a great support system helps to keep a positive mindset.

The team recently competed at the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival, which drew a crowd of an “estimated 5,500 paddlers and 100,000 festival-goers.” In fact, it’s known as “North America’s biggest, best, and most competitive racing festival.” This year, on the thirtieth anniversary of the event, SFU Shockwave pulled through with an impressive first-place podium finish in the recreational grand finals, which qualified them for their first ever 2k Guts & Glory race. The team came in fifteenth in the competition overall.

In July, they were also present at the Harrison Dragon Boat Regatta. According to Earl, the team placed second out of about 50 teams in an extremely tight race; SFU Shockwave beat the third-place team by milliseconds. The outcomes of this summer’s races accurately showcase the hard work and dedication of the team.

If you are interested in getting involved with SFU’s Dragon Boat team, you can follow and message them on their Facebook page “SFU Dragon Boat” (@sfushockwave) as well as their Instagram (@sfushockwave). You can also contact them through their email (sfudb@sfu.ca). In addition, the team will have a booth you can visit during Clubs Days, as they will be accepting new members in the fall semester.

“Look out for us there” is the last thing Earl says before his voice is drowned out by the team’s passionate cheer as they break from their post-practice huddle.