What is Dragon Boat?

Dragon Boat is a race over a clearly defined unobstructed course in the shortest possible time. There are two classes that compete in this discipline, 10-seater and 20-seater referring to the number of paddlers in the boat. Paddlers sit in twos side-by-side and use a single-bladed paddle. Both classes will also have 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.

Dragon boats are designed to resemble the classic dragon that had the head of an ox, antler of a deer, mane of a horse, body of a python, claws of a hawk, and fins and tail of a fish, so the bow is crafted as the head of a dragon with the stern the tail, the hull painted with scales and the paddles symbolically representing the claws. Modern Dragon Boat is generally recognised as having its origins in the Hong Kong International Races, first held in 1976.

The official race distances recognised by the International Canoe Federation (ICF) are 200 or 250, 500 and 2000 metres. The 2000 is conducted as a pursuit race with two laps of the 500-metre course completed incorporating three turns. Events are held for men’s team, women’s team and mixed team. The mixed team must include a minimum of eight women (four in the 10-seater class).

The 2018 edition of the World Championships was held Lake Lanier, Gainesville, United States of America. There were 90 races altogether including heats and finals in junior, senior and masters categories. Germany topped the medal table with 16 golds, ahead of the host nation USA on eight golds. The Philippines picked up five gold medals. A total of 13 countries took part. The 2020 World Championships was scheduled for Bilawali Lake in Indore, India but was cancelled becuase of the coronavirus pandemic. The World Championships returned in 2022 with Racice, Czechia playing host.

The ICF also hosts a World Championships for club crews in alternate years to the World Championships.

Additional Information

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