About the Sport
Dragon Boat racing is one of the fastest-growing and most popular sports in the world and yet its history can allegedly be traced back over 2000 years.
According to the legend, in the 4th century BC China, Ch’u Yuan, a minister in the Chinese Kingdom of Ch’u, became a victim of downsizing and was sent into exile. He couldn’t bear the disgrace and with a rather large mortgage to finance, he threw himself in the Mi Lo river.
Ch’u Yuan underestimated the strength of his popularity amongst the local fishermen. The fishermen took to their boats and raced as fast as they could to the spot where Ch’u Yuan was last seen to help him. They beat their drums and splashed their paddles in the water in grief and in an attempt to keep the river dragons away from Ch’u Yuan’s body.
Why or how a sport evolved from these rather sad and confused events is unknown, the ancient Chinese writings are rather sketchy on this point. For all of us involved in the sport we remain ever thankful to the late Ch’u Yuan for his selfless sacrifice and the subsequent evolution of our sport.
Modern Dragon Boat festivals often reenact these events although splashing of paddles in the water is generally considered to be a poor technique by the more hardcore Dragon Boat teams.
The modern sport
Dragon Boating has been extremely popular in the Far East for many years but it is only relatively recently that the sport has surged in popularity in Europe.
In the UK the sport has boomed to the extent that it is estimated that 40,000 people in 800 crews take part in events each year. There is a well-established racing calendar, both nationally and internationally, as well as a more relaxed series of corporate and charity events where the pace is a little less frantic. The staggering growth of the sport is set to continue in the 21st century as more and more people realise the appeal of Dragon Boating. An inclusion in the Olympic games is generally expected and who knows, the next Steve Redgrave may well be a Dragon Boater. OK, that may be stretching the point but you never know.
The brightly painted fibreglass boats are approximately 40ft long and decorated with a dragon’s head and tail. Each boat holds up to 20 paddlers sitting side-by-side. There is a helm who steers the boat and the paddlers are kept in time by a drummer who beats a large drum.
Regattas are often held on multi-lane courses, which can result in very exciting (and very loud) racing.
Normal race distances are 200m (short race) and 500m (standard race), although there are some events with races of 1km and more. Crews are divided into various classes including premier, standard, mixed, ladies, junior, and charity.
As a club, we race nationally in the British Dragon Boat Association league and other events. Several of our members paddle in the Great Britain Dragon Boat team.