What is Dragon Boat?

Dragon boat racing is a watersport wherein a number of watercrafts called dragon boats race over a clearly defined unobstructed course in the shortest time possible. Paddlers sit in twos side-by-side and use a single-bladed paddle. There are two categories that compete in this discipline, 10-seater (small boat) and 20-seater (standard) referring to the number of paddlers in the boat. A team also has a drummer and a steerer, with everybody in the boat paddling to the rhythm of the drum.

Dragon boat has ancient Chinese origins and dates back more than 2,000 years. The first participants were Chinese villagers who held races on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar in the belief it would show worship to the dragon, a traditional symbol of water in Asia, and so encourage the rains needed for prosperity and to avert misfortune. Dragon boat took on further prominence following the death of great poet Qu Yuan in 278 BC. He committed suicide in the Miluo River in a protest against corruption. Local people went in their fishing boats to try and save him, and beat drums and splashed oars in the water to keep fish away from his body. His death is marked by a dragon boat festival (Duanwu Festival) each year.

The world governing body for this watersport is the International Dragon Boat Federation.

The Anatomy of a dragon boat paddle

Dragon Boat Crews and Positions

Drummer – leads the paddlers throughout a race using the rhythmic drum beat to indicate the frequency and synchronicity of all the paddlers’ strokes

Pacer – they set the pace for the team and are responsible for synchronising their strokes with one another

Engine – they are the heart, they pull and push the boat forward, if the boat is moving forward well, they push, if it is sluggish at front, they compensate the pull

Rockets – the “turbo” on the boat, considered as the strongest paddlers in the team, responsible for giving the dragon boat a speed boost

Steersman – steers the dragon boat with a sweep oar rigged at the rear of the boat

The Basic Dragon Boat Paddling Technique

There is this popular saying: “different strokes, for different folks”. This is quite true in dragon boat. Each dragon boat crew has their own stroke or paddling style but they do follow the 4 basic steps for proper dragon paddling.

A little information: dragon boat paddlers DO NOT ROW, they paddle. Paddles are used in paddling. Oars are used in rowing. Paddles are not attached to anything. They move freely through the air and are supported only by the paddler’s hands. The oars used in rowing are actually attached to the boat being rowed. They sit in oarlocks which act as a fulcrum for the pushing and pulling rowing motion.

Click on the photo to enlarge. Image grabbed from this Dragon Boat Infographic

Informative video made by 22 Dragons Dragon Boat Club