THE HISTORY OF DRAGON BOAT
Photo courtesy of Jeff Holubeshen
WITH ROOTS IN CHINA'S HISTORICAL CULTURE OVER 2000 YEARS AGO, DRAGON BOAT IS NOW A COMPETITIVE SPORT WITH PADDLERS ACROSS THE WORLD.
History of Dragon Boat
Dragon boat originated in Southern China over thousands of years ago and so the legend goes that during the Warring States period (475-221 BC), a popular and well-respected government minister committed suicide in grief due to the invasion of his state by the neighbouring state. In order to save him and protect his body from being eaten by fish, the commoners beat the drum and splashed paddles into the water to scare the fish away and threw rice into the river to prevent the fish from eating his body. This rice, known as zongzi (sticky rice wrapped in leaves), is now prepared annually as part of the culturally significant Duen Ng / Duen Wu festival.
Dragon boat is a paddle sport in which 20 paddlers (10 left paddlers and 10 right paddlers) power a boat with the goal of being the first team to pass the finish line. The full crew on the boat consists of 1 drummer (at the bow or front of the boat) and a steersperson at the rear of the boat. It is a paddle sport for everyone - all ages and abilities.
Due to the team nature of the sport, dragon boat is popular among businesses as a corporate team building event. By the same reason, many join the sport because of its social nature to meet new people and have fun. However, beyond the recreational community, dragon boat is a demanding, high performance sport that attracts and develops many elite athletes. The top paddlers that compete internationally or represent Canada are unpaid amateurs with regular jobs outside of the sport.
Those who sweat together, win together.
Synchronization is one of the most important elements of dragon boat paddling. In order to move the boat efficiently forward and to travel at a optimal speed, paddlers must be in unison each and every stroke. Teams will often train together and have many social events in order to grow and develop as a team beyond the physical aspect of the sport.
Team training varies depending on of the level of competitiveness (recreational to sport) and team goals. The end objective is to attend dragon boat regattas or races and compete other teams. In climates with 4 seasons (eg. Toronto), the dragon boat season starts when the ice has melted in the lakes and ends with the last regatta in fall. Teams collectively decide on the races they wish to participate in. Regattas and race festivals are held in various cities, towns, provinces and countries.
A dragon boat team may prep for a season by undergoing land training (work-outs in the gym to build strength and endurance) and pool practice (to build and refine paddling technique). Pool practice was typically held in regular swimming pool but the awkward seating position limited the benefits of pool practice and its transferability to actual technique in the pool. Up until Afterburn opened in January 2014, paddlers in Toronto did not have access to a dragon boat specific paddling pool. Now, Afterburn is known as the go-to training facility for any team and paddler serious about improving their paddling performance.