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Integrating paradragons into clubs

Who or what are Paradragons
Many of you reading this will know what a Paradragon is, or what Paradragon racing is all about.  Some of you may have seen someone with an obvious impairment paddling at a dragon boat event.  A few of you may be aware of people living with ‘invisible’ impairments (like mental health issues) who paddle.  Even fewer of you may already actually be a Paradragon in your own right.  But most of you will probably paddle regularly without giving too much thought to those who live their lives while living with the challenges of impairments.

First of all, some definitions. The term ‘Paradragon’ describes both the individual paddler and a class of racing.  To be a Paradragon paddler, you must be living with a physical, psychological, neurological, sensory, developmental or intellectual impairment.  The impairment can be mild or severe – there is no minimum threshold, and the sport tries to accommodate those with even the most challenging impairments.

‘Paradragon’ also refers to a class of racing, where Paradragon paddlers can compete against other Paradragon paddlers.  IDBF has a special set of race rules that set out the criteria for Paradragon racing and how individual impairments are addressed.  

Finally, there is the also the term ‘para athletes’ which you might have heard of.  IDBF uses this interchangeably with ‘Paradragons’ but usually only when in dialogue with organisations external to IDBF. For example, when IDBF talks to other sports bodies, ‘para athletes’ is a common term that is readily understood.  ‘Paradragons’, on the other hand, is mainly used within our sport.

Around the world there are many dragon boat clubs who have teams that compete in local Paradragon racing.  But IDBF runs international Paradragon racing too!  In 2022, in Sarasota, USA, the first ever Paradragon races were run as part of IDBF’s 13th Club Crew World Championships. In 2023, in Pattaya, Thailand, international Paradragon teams will compete against each other in IDBF’s 16th World Dragon Boat Racing Championships. 

However, Paradragons aren’t constrained to racing only in Paradragon events – there is nothing to stop them racing in any race.

What should I or my club be thinking about

Let’s start by offering a few general thoughts about Paradragons.  They:

  • may have special needs (but not always), and can be a real benefit to a crew largely comprising unimpaired paddlers ;

  • are not ‘disabled’ people; they just happen to have an impairment that might affect how they paddle ; and

  • are people with stories to share and with lifestyles that might be different to yours, but they are paddlers!


If your club is looking to recruit Paradragons, or a Paradragon has expressed interest in joining your club, there are a few things you need to think about.  First and foremost, your club ethos must be supportive.  If club members are willing to embrace Paradragons, there is virtually no obstacle that can’t be overcome.

But, you will need to think about:

  • Accessibility – your facilities (clubhouse, boat loading areas etc) will need to be able to cater for the expected impairments. For example, would a visually impaired person be able to move safely around the club’s facilities? Is the site suitable for those in wheelchairs or using crutches? Make sure a proper risk assessment is undertaken.

  • How to create a welcoming and supportive environment – this is as much about how you and the other paddlers behave as it is about the physical features of your club’s site.  

  • How to adjust coaching instructions and training sessions. Coaching Paradragons brings different challenges to coaching unimpaired paddlers, and this is made a little more difficult because each impairment will bring unique challenges.  There is no simple solution and coaches will need to learn how to adapt so as to bring out the best in everyone – impaired and unimpaired. IDBF has produced some ‘tips’ about coaching Paradragons.

  • Training members to be able to respond appropriately if a Paradragon experiences a problem. Knowing how to administer medication (if required and if it is permitted), who to call in an emergency, or how to deal with incidents will be specific to the individual; like coaching, every situation will be unique.  Getting to know the individual Paradragon is the best thing you can do.  In many cases, people feel uneasy about even asking a person about their impairment but actually that person is happy to share information.  Don’t be judgemental, or rely on stereotypes, talk to them! Find out what you and others can do in the event something goes a bit wrong. That said, some people living with impairments really don’t need or want help – they know their own limits etc and are best placed to look after themselves.  For example, don’t assume that someone in a wheelchair needs help getting in and out of the boat – if they do, they will ask!

How to find out more
If you’ve not found the answers yet to your questions about Paradragons and how you or your club can help them participate, then send an email to

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