First of all… What is Dragon Boating?
Dragon Boat Racing is a water-sport spanning thousands of years, originating from the Pearl River Delta region of China’s Guangdong Province. It is one of the most up-and-coming sports in the world, with over 50 million participants worldwide.
Modern Dragon Boat Racing began as an international sport in Hong Kong in 1976 (for more information, click here).
Dragon Boat Racing consists of crews of 10 or 20 paddlers in a boat (+ Sweep/ Steerer and Drummer). The boats are typically made of carbon-fibre, fibreglass and other lightweight materials.
So how does it work?
Dragon Boat Racing involves each crew member paddling in synchronization/ as part of a team, against other Dragon Boat teams (or against time) from a start line to a finish line.
Race lengths vary, with the most popular being 200m, 500m and 2km.
According to the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF), there are currently 72 countries/ territories with memberships to the IDBF – and many more with a known interest.
Although you may have seen some teams sporting wooden paddles, Dragon Boat paddles are generally made of Carbon Fibre and their dimensions are carefully considered and controlled to comply with IDBF standards.
A paddler’s technique, height and power will determine the exact length and weight of the paddle.
You will notice the stamp/ decal on the top of the blade in the image – noting that the paddle complies with IDBF standards.
Paddles that are not compliant are not able to be used in official Dragon Boat Racing.
Modern Dragon Boat Racing is organised at the international level by the IDBF, which is the governing body for the sport.
Dragon Boat Racing at the State, National and International level is very competitive and many paddlers train all year round and go through rigorous training programs, camps and try-outs to be capable of competing at a high level.
The Australian Dragon Boat Team is the Auroras – and their fitness benchmarks are outlined here.
Above is a diagram of the typical set-up of a Dragon Boat Crew. Below is a quick description of each of these positions and what their purpose is:
The sweep is arguably the most important person on the boat.
They are responsible for the safety of the entire crew, and need to be in command 100% of the time.
The sweep needs to be able to understand wind and race conditions, as well as the capabilities of their crew, in order to keep the boat moving forward correctly.
The back two/ four paddlers should be strong and able to keep up with the front ‘strokes’.
MIDDLE/ ENGINE ROOM:
The middle section of the boat is usually reserved for the strong, heavier paddlers to help balance the boat but still keep it above water with powerful strokes.
The front paddlers, also know as ‘strokes’ set the pace for the rest of the crew to follow.
These paddlers should have long, strong techniques, setting the visual example for the entire crew.
The drummer position is usually reserved for someone lightweight (so the boat isn’t front heavy).
Drummers beat the drum in time to the strokes’ paddling, and calls out encouragement to the team – it might seem underrated, but it is extremely important in race conditions.
So why should you try it?
There are many great reasons to try and love Dragon Boating – but here are my personal TOP 10 reasons to give it a go:
STRENGTH AND FITNESS
Yes, this is an obvious benefit to any sport. However to be good at Dragon Boating, it requires a certain level of endurance, aerobic fitness, as well as strength.
It’s a whole body workout – your legs are the anchor while the muscles in your arms, shoulders and back are used to cut through the water.
You have to really lean forward to get the correct technique, which means you are also working your core at the same time, too!
Most clubs train several times a week, which means you can really choose what you get out of the sport. Whether you’re looking for a more social activity, or you have a competitive streak, this sport is excellent for either end of the spectrum.
Dragon Boat Racing is a sport that originated thousands of years ago. It is believed to have origins tracing back 2,500 years. In Chinese tradition, the Dragon symbolizes:
On race days, the boats are fitted with the proper Dragon Head and Tail. A traditional ceremony called ‘Awaking the Dragon’ is carried out, where a Taoist Priest dots the eyes of the dragon, thus ending its ‘slumber’.
The Chinese celebrate each year with a ‘Dragon Boat Festival’ which is one of their oldest and most grandiose festivals. It’s also known as the Duanwu Festival and occurs near the summer solstice (late May, early June). You can find more information here. Adelaide Dragon Boat Clubs also race at the OzAsia/ Moon Lantern Festival.
MEETING NEW PEOPLE:
Dragon Boat Racing is a sport that incorporates a wide variety of people of all ages, races and genders, from all walks of life. This makes it an amazingly social sport to be a part of.
Whether you plan to try Dragon Boat Racing competitively or socially, one thing is assured: you will make some amazing friends.
The atmosphere both on and off the water is perfect for getting to know the people in your club, and everyone helps everyone else.
MASTERING A NEW SKILL-SET
Learning to paddle is always interesting – and each club has their own slightly different paddling technique – but for most, it is a very new kind of skill to learn.
Not only do you need to learn how to paddle – you need to learn the commands as well. It’s a sport that is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally, but once you start to master it, very satisfying!
THE SCENERY & BEING ON THE WATER
Where there are boats, there are (hopefully) bodies of water. And generally speaking, the places you paddle are quite beautiful!
Whether you’re paddling at a marina, on a river, a lake or the ocean, there is usually a lot to look at. So, while you may be paddling your butt off, you can still appreciate the scenery around you.
Early mornings are fresh and a perfect way to start your day, and afternoon training is rewarded with some incredibly beautiful sunsets. And the occasional pelican, fish, seagull or duck as well!
CAMARADERIE/ BEING PART OF A TEAM
Dragon Boat Racing is team sport, and to have any hope of making the boat go forward, you must work together.
The loyalty and team spirit you find while Dragon Boat Racing is something you won’t find anywhere else.
You’ll find out very quickly that ‘team’ takes on a very important meaning, especially while you’re on the water.
Rain, hail or shine (quite literally), training is a lot easier when you know you can trust the people around you. And rest assured, there’s nothing quite like paddling on a lake, hail and rain bucketing down, and laughing with the people next to you.
You will spend a lot of time on and off the water with the people around you, so having a mutual trust and friendship is imperative. Over time, you’ll notice that the people you paddle with will begin to become family.
Dragon Boat Racing can take you to some interesting places! Not only can you compete nationally, but if you make the national team, you could find yourself on the other side of the world.
The Dragon Boat World Championships take place all over the globe, from Hong Kong and Thailand, to Hungary and France. With a bit of competitive spirit and determination, this sport can take you to anywhere imaginable, all while making international friends along the way!
FREEING YOUR MIND
One of my favourite things about Dragon Boat Racing is that while you are on the water, there’s absolutely no time to think about anything other than paddling.
You are completely focused on your technique, what the commands being called out are, and keeping in time with the strokes (front two paddlers).
This sport is truly amazing for your all round well-being – body, mind, soul and spirit.
For someone like me, where day-to-day life can sometimes feel out of control, Dragon Boat Racing is the perfect opportunity to let all the worry and stress drift (quite literally) away.
Discipline. There’s nothing quite like it.
You don’t know what this means until your sweep is screaming at an ear-splitting decibel for a ‘Power 20’ and all you can do is push your hardest and hope you aren’t going to have a heart attack.
Linking in with camaraderie, you and your team-mates rely on being disciplined to execute everything you’re told, in perfect synchronization, in order to bring the boat up and forward. And when it works, it works.
Dragon Boat Racing = Races.
Lots and lots of races! Whether you see yourself as a competitive person or not, racing against other clubs is a lot of fun. It really brings everything together – camaraderie, discipline, team work, tradition, strength and fitness and everything you’ve learned along the way.
Giving one hundred percent, as a team unit, is truly a sight to see, and something to experience.
Race days are also a great way to mingle with people with other teams, watch other age-groups, enjoy some good old-fashioned team spirit and perhaps a beer or three after it’s all said and done.
So what are you waiting for?!
Summer is rapidly approaching (for my Australian friends, at least), and what better way to get fit and enjoy the water and sun? So what are you waiting for? Head down to your local club and give it a go!
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