Legend of Qu Yuan and the Origins of Dragon Boat Racing – Water splashes in your face, kicking heartbeat, excitement, and feeling a unique part of the team — that’s what dragon boat racing is all about. Dragon boating puts paddlers’ teamwork and stamina to the test, as well as their ability to endure long stretches of paddling.
It is one of the most exciting, hardcore, and authentic sports ever, and we will share its specifics and secrets in the article below.
Dragon Boat Racing: What Is It in the First Place?
Dragon boating is a competitive water sport played in large canoe-like boats with intricately carved dragon heads and tails.
The core values of dragon boating are strength, collaboration, and teamwork.
The boats can accommodate 20 people, two at a time, plus a drummer at the front and a sweep to steer at the back. Dragon heads and tails are used to adorn dragonboats during competitions. Depending on how many women and how old the paddlers are, competitions are separated into groups for 200, 500, or 2000 meters. There are also divisions in some competitions for ten paddlers per boat. Every boat has a professional helmsperson at the stern to steer the vessel and a drummer to keep the paddlers in rhythm. Dragon boat racing, which has its roots in ancient China, is currently the fastest-growing water sport worldwide and is popular among businesses and nonprofits for its capacity to foster teamwork and raise money.
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And the Story Goes Back
A fertility ritual believed to bring good luck for the upcoming crop season, dragon boat racing started more than 2000 years ago on the banks of the life-sustaining rivers in the southern Chinese valleys.
The sport was first practiced as a folk ritual to honor the planting of summer rice, please the rain gods, and encourage rainfall. Dragon boat racing has always been a yearly water ritual, even from its inception. This celebration is part of the traditional show of respect for the Chinese dragon water gods. The idea underlying the sport is the belief that the dragon, the only legendary Chinese zodiac sign, rules over water on Earth, including rivers, lakes, and oceans, as well as water in the sky, including clouds, rain, and mists.
The Saga of Qu Yuan
To give the celebration two meanings, a second story was added over time. According to legend, poet Qu Yuan drowned himself in the River Mi Lo after learning that his kingdom had been defeated, having been banished from the kingdom of Chu by dishonest ministers. Allegedly, the local villagers beat drums to ward off evil spirits and splashed paddles into the water in an attempt to save Qu Yuan and his soul, but in vain. Upon reaching land, the upset fishermen claimed that the outcome might have been different if they had been more proficient paddlers. And hence, they started training. The yearly Dragon Boat Festival is said to have originated from this story.
The Dragon Boat Festival
🔮 China recognizes the Dragon Boat Festival as a public holiday. Celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, this traditional holiday is also known as the Double Fifth Festival. Because the festival’s date is defined by the lunar calendar, it takes place at a different time each year. In general, the Gregorian calendar places the holiday somewhere between the end of May and the end of June.
🔮 The dragon boat festival is an exciting, thunderous celebration. People gather outside on the banks of rivers and lakes to enjoy the sunny weather while watching traditional dragon boat races during this time of year, which is quite pleasant in most of China.
🔮 As per the legend, the fishermen started tossing rice into the river as a sacrifice to Qu Yuan to provide nourishment for his soul in the afterlife. However, one night, Qu Yuan showed up to one of the fishermen in a dream and informed him that the fish were consuming the rice offerings and that, in order to stop this, the rice should be wrapped in silk. Later, the silk should be replaced with bamboo leaves, known as zongzi, to protect the offerings further. Every family starts the festival by eating zongzi in the morning. Zongzi are basically bamboo leaf-wrapped sticky rice dumplings which are typically prepared a day prior to the festival.
🔮 To acquire prosperity for the year, another intriguing custom is to balance an egg upright. It’s thought that during the festival, when Earth’s gravitational pull is at its strongest, it will be easiest to keep an egg “standing up” by keeping it balanced.
🔮 The dragon boat race is the most significant event of the events. The paddlers maneuver wooden dragon-shaped boats as drums beat in the background. While regional variations exist, boats typically range in size from 12 to 20 meters. The winning team is thought to have good fortune and lead a happy life the following year.
The Awesome Boats
The design of dragon boats is inspired by the traditional dragon, which has the head of an ox, the antlers of a deer, the body of a python, the claws of a hawk, and the fins and tail of a fish. Accordingly, the stern is shaped like a dragon’s tail, the hull is painted in scales, and the paddles are meant to symbolize the claws.
Each paddler has a distinct role to play. As they paddle, they sit close to one another and up against the gunnel to keep the boat balanced. The strokers occupy the front three seats of the boat, and the fourth seat serves as a transitional area where the paddlers should ideally have strength and rhythm. The “engine room,” which comprises seats four, five, and six, is where the team members who are the biggest and strongest sit. Strong paddlers, usually shorter and with greater speed, make up the last four rows of a dragon boat. Because they are scooping water back, the first 14 seats of the dragon boat are where the water is moving faster, making the paddlers there known as “rockets.”
The paddlers are trained to monitor the area between two seats and the middle of the boat. When one of the paddlers raises their paddle to engage the water, it signals the person watching to do the same.
On a race day, it can be challenging to hear the drummer, even though he maintains the beat for the majority of the boat.
Dragon boat racing is a highly visual sport, and magic can happen in a boat as long as everyone observes the right person. Teams must first create a plan, then carry it out: the front team members must paddle in unison to set an example for the rear team.
It is the International Dragon Boat Federation, the sport’s recognized governing body, that currently organizes the racing in a global arena. Members who are interested in the sport can also participate in the International Canoe Federation’s dragon boat racing program. The races are extremely competitive. Paddlers are bound to train year-round, using the pool, paddling machines, and intense on-water training sessions.
Typically, a festival dragon boat race consists of a sprint course spanning several hundred meters. The most frequent races are those lasting 500 meters. Depending on the size of the body of water, races are also held over distances of 100 and 250 meters during local festivals. Standard races in international competitions consist of 200, 1000, and 2000 meters in length. Teams must complete two loops of the 500-meter course in order to compete in the 2000-meter races.
Dragon Boat Racing Worldwide
Despite being a Chinese tradition, this catchy and eccentric sport has spread all over the world. Dragon boat racing is now a regulated sport with many different rules and standards.
Recently, this sport has lost most of its cultural connotations related to the traditional folk holiday. In 1976, dragon boat racing was brought to Hong Kong as a modern sport. Held during the Tuen Ng Festival, it’s one of the most vibrant and competitive summer sports events in Hong Kong.
Dragon boat races take place in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Singapore, Australia, and Germany, just to name a few. But of course, this water sport is especially popular in the tropical regions with their mild climate and calm blue waters.
The Philippines, the gem of the SEA region, is one of the countries that holds dragon boat competitions on many of the 7107 islands this archipelago consists of.
International Dragon Boat Festival in Boracay
The clear, calm waters of Boracay Island are undoubtedly a competitive dragon boat paddler’s dream destination, even though dragon boat race locations around the world vary in terms of clarity, weight, size, texture, and smell. All dragon boat teams share, though, their eagerness to visit Boracay island and take part in the yearly Boracay International Dragon Boat Festival. To fully immerse themselves in the local culture and meet interesting people, paddlers from all over the world have been traveling to Boracay since 2007 to paddle in the crystal-clear blue sea and spend their summer vacations there.
Being in Boracay is, for most paddlers, a reward in itself because the island feels like it has a beating heart that never stops, bringing its visitors and locals alike eternal life as they pursue their own adventures. The journey is already worthwhile because of the amazing sunsets, the vibrant atmosphere of the race day, and the perfectly clear waters of the Sulu sea. The paddlers will definitely remember these wonderful moments because of the sailboats, the lowering sun, the swimmers, and the last of the dragon boats sliding into the horizon.
The Sad Story Behind the Perfect Picture: the Fallen Seven
It is important to remember the safety protocol in the water, no matter how good you are at swimming or rowing. Boats capsize, and waves leave you breathless. Never underestimate the power of nature, and stay alert when you are in the water.
In late September 2019, the whole of Boracay island was shocked by the incident that took place in the calm blue waters of the Sulu Sea just 300 meters away from the shore. F
Four male and three female rowers training for an international race drowned when the wooden boat was swamped and overturned by large waves off one of the most well-known tropical vacation resort islands in the world. Those were young and fit athletes who were born next to the sea and learned to swim before they even started walking. Since then, the safety protocols have been thoroughly scrutinized, but the fallen seven will never come back. This accident left the whole dragonboat community devastated.
Hence, the safety tips.
💡 Be aware of the weather conditions. In many communities, dragon boating is an annual activity. In the winter, clubs rehearse on the frigid rivers, lakes, and bays close to their residences. An outdoor winter practice can be enjoyable and safe, even though it can be chilly and wet, provided you take safety precautions. If you are paddling in the warm sea waters, mind the weather forecast. Tropical areas are prone to typhoons, while seas have tricky currents you might not be aware of.
💡 Use common sense. Make sure the conditions are right before you leave the dock because no practice or race is worth endangering someone’s life. You should leave the boat tied up in any fast-moving or debris-filled water. Also, your boat needs functional lights if you are practicing in the dark. Do not join the practice if you are not feeling well. Never go out with insufficient paddlers. In summary, your helm maintains the absolute authority to end a practice for any reason at any time.
💡 Make sure you can swim in your attire. Everyone should be able to swim 50 meters wearing the appropriate clothes or equipment for the activity. Those who can’t swim will require more assistance.
💡 Plan ahead. Make sure your team has a plan in case your boat capsizes. However, it’s better to avoid it. Don’t overload one side of the boat; maintain balance. The drummer and the helm can also be used to aid with balance. If you have to switch seats, do so in a friendly manner. It’s effective to work one bench at a time, front to back. Try to avoid making any abrupt movements and spend as much time as possible seated.
💡 Use a PFD. All members of the team must wear approved personal flotation devices. The PFD should be fully fastened and snug.
💡 Pay attention. It’s especially crucial to pay great attention to your surroundings when sailing in rough water. Watch out for commands, especially those coming from the helm. Keep an eye out for any floating debris. A big object, like a log, could tip the boat over. Practice using commands like “stop the boat” or “hold hard” for emergency stops and “brace the boat,” which involves placing your paddles flat on the water to stabilize the boat.
💡 Buddy-buddy system. Prior to the entire crew being gathered to board the boat, seat pairs number off individually from the bow to the stern, beginning with “1,” the drummer. The drummer and the first buddy group form a threesome; the drummer and the last numbered “buddy,” the helm, form a threesome. Just before boarding, the helm notifies the management of the race of the total number of people on board. In the event of a capsize, each person should pair up with their seatmate. The helm partners with the last bench, and the drummer partners with the first bench.
💡 Get some spare clothes. You will almost certainly get splashed when there are up to 20 people paddling at once. Remember to bring your towel, and it’s especially useful to have an extra pair of shoes.
💡 Get some SPF protection. When you’re out on the water, there isn’t much shade, so the sun will reflect off the water and come back at you. On cloudier days, you’ll probably still need sunscreen.
Ready to Become a Dragon Boat Paddler?
Being a physically demanding sport, dragon boating calls for a blend of strength, endurance, and technique.
Here are some pointers to help you get ready if this is your first time competing in a dragon boat race:
The length of a dragon boat race can range from 200 to 2000 meters, so cardiovascular endurance training is crucial. Including long-distance running, cycling, or swimming in your training regimen will help you achieve this.
Boost Your Upper Body Strength
Although dragon boating works your entire body, the majority of the work will be done by your shoulders, back, and arms. Include exercises that develop strength in these areas, such as rows, push-ups, and pull-ups.
Improve Your Technique
Dragon boating demands good technique in addition to strength and endurance. It’s important to concentrate on creating a fluid paddling stroke, keeping your body in alignment, and timing your strokes with the team.
Train, and Train Again
Get as much experience on the water as you can to become used to the sensation of paddling a dragon boat. You’ll be able to perfect your technique and increase your endurance at the same time.
Be Mentally Prepared
Dragon boating is a highly challenging sport, particularly in a competitive setting. Imagine yourself successfully crossing the finish line while paddling with the team. Try not to lose sight of your rhythm and technique, and don’t give up easily if something doesn’t go as planned.
To Sum It Up
Dragon boating has a long history and a promising future. At least two boats compete against one another in dragon boat races, which are a colorful spectacle that takes place over distances of 200 to 2000 meters and beyond. It is a sport where not only physical prowess, stamina, and aptitude are crucial, but also teamwork and shared purposes.
Dragon boat racing is a team sport that is currently not an Olympic sport but is quickly moving in this direction.
It is also a lot of fun and highly social. In addition to being appealing to businesses, this “community activity” is also a high-performance sport for athletes of the highest caliber. However, as any other water sport, dragon boat racing is a risky endeavor. It is crucial to stick to the safety rules and use common sense. In the read above, we shared all the tips and tricks of this vibrant sport. And if you are ready to check it out, go for it.
Dragon boat racing is all about a narrow boat literally bringing people closer together while creating a special bond.