Dragon boating is a water sport that is recognized for the strength, endurance, and team spirit that participants share. All over the world, tens of thousands of athletes participate in dragon boat festivals each year. There are also thousands of people involved in dragon boat clubs and organizations. Today this exciting water sport is among the fastest growing team water sports in the world.
History of Dragon Boats
For centuries, dragon boats have been popular in Asia, however, its worldwide popularity and dragon boat festivals are a relatively new development. Approximately 2,400 years ago dragon boating emerged in China. Originally, various groups would gather in Chinese communities to celebrate the end of the planting season. There is a legend that says that in the fourth century, a well-known scholar and poet threw himself into the Mi Lo River as an act of protest against political corruption. In an effort to rescue the man, local fishermen paddled ferociously but were unsuccessful in their efforts to reach him before he drowned. In honor of the man’s memory and the rescue attempt, each year Chinese citizens re-enacted the event which resulted in the development of dragon boat racing.
A Team Water Sport
Dragon boating is a team sport that promotes team spirit. The actual dragon boat is a long and narrow boat with 10 rows of seats designed to hold two paddlers. There is also seating in the front for a drummer for pacing and a steersperson spot, or ‘tiller’ or ‘sweep’, in the back of the boat. Boats certified by the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) are 9 and 12 meters long. There are many different designs and sizes of wooden dragon boats used in the traditional dragon boat festivals. Developing the paddling technique takes effort and numerous drills to master but the technique itself is easy to learn.
The Dragon Boat Race
A dragon boat crew will paddle a 300 to 1000 pound dragon boat through the water. Dragon Boat races take place over a 200 to 2500 meter course. It takes on average approximately two and a half minutes for a twenty paddler crew minutes to paddle a 500 meter race. Many paddlers say the whole paddling experience is quite spiritual. When preparing for a dragon boat race, teams first stage on shore and then load their boats and paddle out to the starting point. A Starter and a Chase Boat will align the boats. Once aligned, there are 3 commands issued. The typical start commands are similar to the following:
- Starter has the race! – This signals that the start is about to happen.
- Attention, Paddlers! OR Attention, Please!
- We have alignment – The boats are aligned and ready to go.
Once the commands are issued, the starting horn is sounded and the teams begin the race. Dragon boat racing first emerged in Vancouver, BC where the sport is extremely popular and it extends all the way down to Tampa Bay, Florida with thousands of places in between that have teams participating in the exciting water sport.