All-Female Dragon Boat Team Takes to Cove

by | Jun 4, 2024

Above: On Greenwich Cove with the Valkyries. Photo by Ellen Galoob

The Valkyrie Dragon Boat. Photo by Ellen Galoob

At 9 on a recent Saturday morning Greenwich Cove is still, calm. The sun sends rays through its cloudy water, illuminating comb jellies and horseshoe crabs. A snowy egret lands gently on the shoreline. A few motor boats rock back and forth, anchored. All is quiet. 

Then, a 40-foot-long boat plunges into the water, manned by a team of paddle-wielding women. A person at the end of the boat shouts commands such as “hold water!” and “stroke!” while the rest of the crew works in unison, propelling them across the glassy water. They are the Valkyrie Dragons, Rhode Island’s only all-women dragon boat team. 

Dragon boating originated in China and dates back 2000 years, according to Valkyrie Director Jennifer Potter. Since then, the sport has spread across the world, coming to the U.S. through Canada. Rhode Island began with one competitive team, Ocean State Dragon Boat Club, which has now spawned several others, including the Valkyries, which is a little over a year old. Typically teams are co-ed, composed of 20 paddlers, a steerperson, and a drummer. Different teams use different strokes, which are closest to paddle boarding or outrigger canoe style strokes. 

The Valkyrie boat is made of fiberglass and takes a good 10 people to get it in and out of the water. The paddling can be hard work, but the real expertise comes in keeping time.

Potter, with 10 years of experience, said she created an all-women’s team to foster a close knit group and safe space. Dragon boating has been empowering for some women recovering from illnesses like breast cancer, as well as for new athletes. 

“We found that the community we created was so unique for a lot of women, and it was something that they were looking for. It grew quickly,” said Potter. The team started training in a pool before even buying a boat. 

After each practice, the Valkyries participate in “Brags,” where they are encouraged to share one thing that they accomplished recently and are proud of, no matter the scale. Potter noted how it can be difficult to find competitive sports teams for adults, so the team is open to all ages.

“I was hooked on my first day,” said team member Marissa Piedra. “I’ve been with the team ever since, a little over a year now.”

During the summer, the team practices twice a week outdoors from the East Greenwich Town Boat Launch, paddling around the cove. In the winter they focus on strength training and have a weekly pool practice for technique. Races are short – with about 200-meter and 500-meter lengths. These take between a minute and four minutes. The Valkyries next race is in early July, in Montreal, Canada. 

Before moving to Greenwich Cove, the team practiced in Central Falls. However, the river that they paddled in often flooded and moved too quickly. They looked around the state for an alternative location, and found limited marinas that would accept their boat. The team landed on Greenwich Cove as a safe place to practice, and it’s worked out well.

Potter said her current goal is to recruit people and train them, and dreams to one day have a fleet of dragon boats. She has researched women’s sports and she thinks there’s a need for more. 

“It surprised me what this team became,” said Potter. “I’m addicted to this sport, and I think it is primarily because of the team aspect. It’s just fun.”

If you’d like to learn more, check out their website HERE.

A photo of the Valkyries during a practice earlier in the season. Photo by Jeff Stevens

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