This article is part of our Dragon Boat Festival Family Guide. Sign up for our newsletter to receive our best activity, recipe and craft ideas before every Chinese holiday.
Dragon boat races harkening back to the villagers who paddled out into the Miluo River in search of Qu Yuan are the centerpiece of a Dragon Boat Festival celebration. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand what you’re seeing out on the water.
Picture the scene. A summer waterfront festival with families, food stalls and fun. Out on the river or lake, sun-dappled teams of dragon boat teams prepare to race through the choppy water. This is how you are most likely to observe a dragon boat race.
Dragon boats have been part of Chinese agrarian life for centuries, as an appeal to the water gods during the sweltering summer months. It’s only been since the 1970s, however, that modern dragon boating has grown into an international sport with competitions around the world.
Dragon boats are long, canoe-like vessels traditionally made from teak wood and decorated with a dragon’s head and tail. Teams of 20 paddlers sit two-across along the length of the boat, with a drummer seated at the bow and a steerer standing at the rear.
Dragon boat races are most commonly 500-meter sprints won by crossing the finish line first or by pulling a flag set at the end of the course. The team’s paddling is synchronized by the boat’s drummer, who calls instructions and uses a rhythmic beat to set the team’s pace.
You can easily get involved with dragon boat racing. The teams you see racing at your local festival are amateurs organized into clubs and some paddlers may have little more than a few days of practice. Joining is as easy as introducing yourself.
Dragon boaters cite fitness, recreation and team-building as their reasons for participation. However, as you see a boat stretch for the finish line, don’t forget to remember back to why they’re on the water in the first place.
HT: Photo by Inflatable Boat Center.