Training Tips: Beginners Dongoling

Do you know your J-Stroke from your draw Stroke?

In 2024, Goodall-Smith Wealth Management became sponsors of the Scratch Dongola. Amy Goodall-Smith has a long history with the regatta, having competed (and won!) since she was 8 years old. Here she shares her hard-earned wisdom for dongoling success.

Growing up in Wargrave, working in Twyford, and now living back in Wargrave, this particular village regatta has featured prominently throughout my life. I first competed in a dongola race when I was 9 years old, and I’ve gone on to compete in every regatta since (nearly 40 years!) not just in dongoling but dinghy, punting, canoeing and skiffing.

Where to kneel in the boat

You want your team evenly distributed to balance the boat, power hitters towards the back, and everyone snugly positioned without risking a paddle to the head.

Now, onto the captain’s chair—or rather, the steerer. They kneel up on the back of the boat, keeping the hatch closed. Comfort is paramount so make sure you’re kneeling on a decent sponge. The most common stance is to kneel with your outside knee (nearest the water) as close to the edge of the boat as possible, and your leg behind you, diagonally across the boat.  The other foot is placed directly in front of your kneeling knee and against the other side of the boat.

Steering and Paddling

  1. The ‘J’ stroke: Plant your paddle parallel to the boat, pull along the boat, and then curve outwards at the end of the stroke in a J-shape. This will push the boat away from the side you are kneeling on.  Practice makes perfect with this one.
  2. The draw stroke: Start wide, pull in towards the boat. It’s the opposite to the ‘J’. This will swing the boat towards the side you are kneeling on and is the easier of the two strokes.
  3. Think of steering as a subtle dance, a slight nudge here and there rather than drastic corrections.

Find out more about the art of steering here.

For all paddlers, put one hand on top of the paddle and the other further down the shaft. To take a stroke reach forward as far as you can, rocking forward on each stroke to gain momentum and lengthen your stroke. Keep your paddle upright, pushing with the top hand and pulling with the bottom.  Remove your paddle from the water just as it passes your body. The strength of the stroke is the first half of it.


Last but not least, syncing up with your crew is crucial. Keep your eyes on the horizon and paddle hard till you hit that finish line. It’s a short race so go all out!

Wishing you the very best of luck!

Find out more about Goodall-Smith Wealth Management here