Dragon Boat Racing is probably one of the most popular forms of boat races anywhere in the world. In this article, the basics of this race will be discussed including its history, its crew as well as the boat used in it.
Dragon Boat Racing began in ancient China some 2,500 years ago. There are several theories on its origins but one of the most popular is the legend of Qu Yuan. He was a minister of the state of Chu and a loyal subject of the king around 280 BC. However, people at the kingdom who were jealous of his stature tricked the king into banishing him from the kingdom.
While on exile, he learned that his state was about to be conquered by its neighbor Chin. Because of that, he committed ritual suicide by drowning himself on the Miluo river as a sign of protest against the degradation of mores and values during his time.
When the local people found out about what he did, they desperately tried to save him by rushing to the river with their fishing boats. They beat drums so as to scare the fish and evil spirits away from his body. This event is said to have become the basis of today’s races and the culture around it.
The crew of a dragon boat is usually around 22: 20 paddlers, one drummer and one helmsman. However, the actual number depends on the size of the boat. Some crews can be as few as 18 and be as much as around 50 in traditional boats.
This is probably the crew member who is closely associated with the sport. The drummer’s role is mainly to synchronize the strokes of the paddlers. But more than simply providing the beat, he or she also directs the power of the boat by providing the lead paddlers a quick or slow drumbeat. Finally, the drummer should always be aware of the direction of the boat in relation to the finish line and the boats of other contestants especially since he or she has his or her back towards the finish line.
The paddlers are responsible in powering the boat forward. Unlike the drummer, they face forward. The ones at the front of the boat are called the lead paddlers or pacers. It is important that the paddlers should follow exactly the strokes of the ones in front of them. Otherwise, there will be what is called “caterpillaring” which can spell disastrous effects in the boat’s speed and performance.
Also called the steerer or tiller, the responsibility of the helmsman is to first coordinate with the drummer to come up with commands during a race. During the race, he or she controls the direction that the boat would take using the helm. This includes steering the boat to safety if the original route threatens the crew’s safety.
As its name suggests, the role of the flag catcher is to grab the flag at the finish line. The flag catcher’s job was especially useful when there was still no way of determining the winner in a very close race. This crew member sits behind the drummer but will move to the dragon’s head when approaching the finish line.
The Dragon Boat
A traditional dragon boat is made up of three logs that are bound together. Its upper potion is hollowed out in the center while the bottom is shaped like a “W” with the middle portion more prominent than the outer ones. This design creates a sort of a tunnel effect.
Because of the materials used in making the traditional boat, it is considerably heavier than modern ones. Traditional ones can weigh as much as 1,750 pounds.
Advances in technology, however, have made the design of the modern dragon boat lighter and more streamlined. Today’s boats are usually made of fiberglass which is much lighter than the wooden ones of old. Also, the modern boat is narrower than the traditional ones.
What you have read is merely an introduction to what Dragon Boat Racing is. It is better to experience it yourself so you too can feel the adrenalin rush of competing in a dragon boat race. So check out and join dragon boat clubs in your area.