is dragon boating?
Born of a time-honored Chinese tradition, dragon boating today is the second most popular team sport in the world. Only soccer surpasses it. There are nearly 50 million people who currently take part annually in dragon boat races worldwide. Dragon boat races are held in countries all around the world. There are nearly 50 million people who currently take part annually in dragon boat races worldwide. The majority of the racers are in China and the Far East. It is estimated that over 150,000 participants are in Europe, 50,000 in North America, and 20,000 in Australasia.
The sport was introduced in Canada at the World Championship
Dragon Boat Festival in
Vancouver of June 1996. Today, you can find dragon boat teams
in every major Canadian city.
The sport has been slower to arrive in the United States,
but its growth is steadily rising. America has a United States
Dragon Boat Federation that sponsors world-class teams in
the men's, women's, and mixed crew division. It is a sport
thatembraces different ages, genders, and ability levels.
Premier athletes have joined the sport of dragon boating.
The International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) holds World
Dragon Boat Racing Championships for national teams on odd
numbered years. On even-numbered years, the IDBF Club Crew
World Championships are held for crews representing their
own clubs, and not their countries.
is the History of Dragon Boating?
Courtesy of Hope Afloat
The Dragon Boat Festival has the longest history of the major
holidays celebrated in China. Occurring at the beginning of
summer when insects thrive, the festival was distinguished
from other occasions in earlier days as a time for reminding
family members to take care of their health.
More than 2,500 years ago, a group of superstitious people
believed that dragonboat racing would ensure prosperous and
bountiful crops. Celebrations took place on the summer solstice
- the time of year typically associated with disease and death,
and when man felt most helpless against the powers of nature.
The race has come to symbolize both man's struggle against
nature and his fight against dangerous enemies.
Myth and legend surround the history of dragon boat racing.
The dragon is the most venerated of the Chinese zodiac deities
and symbolizes control over the water. It is also said to
rule the rivers and seas and dominate the clouds and rains.
The very first races were mock dragon battles staged in order
to awaken the hibernating Heavenly Dragon. Sacrifices were
made to the dragon sorcerers. Humans, the cleverest and most
powerful of all beings, were the original sacrifices. Even
much later, when a paddler, or an entire team, fell into the
water they would receive no assistance as it was believed
to be wrong to interfere with the will of the gods. To observe
the Chinese dragon boat races of today, you can only dream
of their meager beginnings.
For many centuries, dragon boat racing was a violent clash
known as the "To Fight and Cross Over" ceremony.
Often, the race resembled a naval battle, with crew members
of competing boats throwing stones and striking at one another
with cane sticks. Onlookers played an active role in the race
cheering and giving gifts of red and green silk to the boat
from their region, but would shout angrily at opposing boats
showering them with stones. It was thought unlucky if at least
one drowning did not occur as a sacrifice to the gods. The
multi colored boats, up to 90 feet in length and just wide
enough for two people to sit in, were decorated with ferocious-looking
dragon heads, scaly bodies and elaborate tails that rose out
of the sea.
Over the years, a second story was integrated to give the
festival a dual meaning - the touching saga of Qu Yuan, which
embodies the story of love and service for one's country.
Chinese history describes the fourth century B.C. as the Warring
States period. It was a time of shifting alliances and treachery.
In a kingdom called Chu, there lived a great patriot and poet
by the name of Qu Yuan who was beloved by the people. He championed
political reform and truth and was banished from the kingdom.
Wandering the countryside, Qu Yuan composed some of China's
greatest poetry, expressing his fervent love for his country
and his deep concern for her future. When the Chu kingdom
was overtaken and ruined at the hands of a rival, either as
an act of despair or an ultimate protest against the corrupt
government, Qu Yuan tied himself to a large stone and threw
himself into the Mei Lo river. This was on the fifth day of
the fifth month in the year 278 B.C. Qu Yuan chose to commit
suicide, rather than lose face and honor by serving a corrupt
Upon learning of Qu Yuan's death, the people raced to the
river in their fishing boats in a futile attempt to save him.
Desperately sailing up and down the river looking for Qu Yuan,
they thrashed the water with their oars and paddles to scare
off hungry fish that might eat his body. To commemorate Qu
Yuan the patriot, fishermen and rural town folk threw cooked
rice dumplings into the water. However, late one night, the
spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them
that a huge river dragon was intercepting the rice meant for
him. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered
silk packages tied with five colors of string as an effort
to ward off the dragon. This tradition is continued today,
although now the dumplings are wrapped in leaves rather than
Present day dragon boats are still similar to those raced
over two thousand years ago. Each crew consists of 20 paddlers,
one drummer and one steer person. Teams race along a straight
course ranging from 250 to 1,000 meters. Top speed comes with
a well timed stroke of the blade - a seasoned Dragon Boat
team will have a stroke rate of 70–80 strokes per minute,
and can travel over the water at 10-13 feet per second. Fortunately,
the crowd no longer throws stone at rival boats, and it is
not imperative that a boat capsizes, nor at least one person
drowns as a sacrifice to the gods.
Dragonboating has evolved from its colorful beginning 2,500
years ago into an International sport with teams and races
on all the continents. There is even an effort to promote
dragonboating as an Olympic sport. Against this background,
Hope Afloat proudly practices a time-honored tradition that
has been celebrated for more than 2,500 years.
Why Breast Cancer Survivors?
Courtesy of Abreast in a Boat
To understand how breast cancer survivors and dragon boating
has become inextricably paired, you have to look to a Canadian
sports medicine physician named Dr. Don C. McKenzie.
In the fall of 1995, Dr. McKenzie, a sports medicine physician
and an exercise physiologist, was conducting a research project
at the Allan McGaving Sports Medicine Center, University of
British Columbia, Vancouver, BC. This study looked at the
cardio-respiratory fitness levels of two groups of women -
one group had been treated for breast cancer, the other group
had no history of breast cancer. The breast cancer group had
many anecdotal stories about the "don'ts" they had
been told after treatment.
Most of this advice restricted activities involving the upper
body. Though well intentioned, there was no published research
that supported this information. A desire to return these
individuals to an unrestricted, active lifestyle, as well
as the lack of scientific proof to the contrary, was the impetus
behind Dr. McKenzie's idea to form this first, all breast
cancer survivor's dragon boat team. (Abreast in a Boat)
Dragon boating was chosen as the venue for several reasons;
it is a strenuous, repetitive, upper body exercise; it provides
an opportunity to work with a large group at one time; it
provides a valuable training stimulus which results in a predictable
improvement in fitness; it is a esthetically pleasing activity
that is fun; Vancouver's Dragon Boat Festival is one of the
World's largest and therefore, would visibly provide an excellent
opportunity to reach a large number of people.
In February 1996, the first team was formed. The only criterion
to join the team was a history of breast cancer. Age, athletic
ability, paddling experience - non-of this mattered. Paddlers
came from all parts of Vancouver area and from all walks of
life. Ages ranged from 31 to 62! The women volunteered for
this adventure not knowing what problems, if any would occur.
They were, and are, a very courageous group. A slow, progressive
weight training and aerobic exercise program was the starting
point. This program was designed by Don to meet the needs
of this special group. April was the start of the "on-the-water"
training and the beginning of a very special floating support
As with the exercise program, the paddling training was done
in a very slow, progressive manner with lots more rest time
than paddling time! The training and coaching were excellent
and were the key elements in avoiding the potential problems
of lymphedema and the musculoskeletal problems associated
with unaccustomed exercise. Key players surfaced to contribute
enormous volumes of time and expertise: Diana Jespersen, Sue
Buchan, Drew Mitchell, Urve Kuusk and Sherri Neisen provided
the critical mass of volunteers to help make this work. As
the weeks went by, the paddling increased and so did the camaraderie.
Missing practice was something no one wanted to do.
The goal that first year was simply to complete the racecourse
at the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival in June. After that
first race, the sense of accomplishment was enormous. There
were many hugs and tears all around not just from the team
members, but also from their families, friends and lots of
the spectators. It certainly was an emotional moment!
And where did they place in that first race.... as Don McKenzie
said prior to the race, "It doesn't matter where they
finish in this race, they are already winners."
From the simple idea of "let's put together a dragon
boat team of women living with breast cancer", there
has been tremendous growth. There are now several boats in
Vancouver, numerous teams in other cities in Canada, as well
as other countries. The Abreast In a Boat Society has been
established and we encourage all people living with breast
cancer to be inspired by these teams and know...."There
is life after breast cancer".
What is the History of Dragonheart?
When Linda Dyer moved to Vermont from the Philadelphia area,
she had a dream of bringing dragon boating to Vermont. Through
the kindness of one person who ‘loaned’ the team
a dragon boat for the summer and another who figured our how
to transport a 41-foot vehicle from Boston to Burlington,
Dragonheart got its auspicious start in June of 2004. Five
members of the team, along with a few people passersby from
the bike path, pushed the ‘borrowed’ dragon boat
into Lake Champlain in July. Word spread quickly. With each
practice, the team grew. By summer’s end, the Dragonheart
boasted over 55 members – breast cancer survivors, our
families, our friends, and paddling enthusiasts.
The team had to return the boat in October. As sad as it
was to see the boat return to Boston, Dragonheart was more
determined than ever to raise the funds needed to get our
own dragon boat. One of our team members was instrumental
in creating a marvelous video about Dragonheart. The team
used every opportunity to tell our story. Our Burlington community
responded BIG and supported our team generously. A HUGE thank
you is due to the staff of Radiation Oncology at the Fletcher
Allen Hospital. After we told them our story, these caretakers
embraced our goals as if they were their own. The staff held
a Silent Auction, Coin Drive, sold our team bracelets and
holiday ornaments, and much more. In the end, these incredibly
generous people raised so much money for Dragonheart that
we dreamed a little bigger. We put the down payment on TWO
The team worked hard to raise funds as well. We sold pink
“Awaken the Dragon” bracelets to everyone we saw.
We solicited funds from our families, friends, and community
business owners. We held a Pink Premiere to hold our own Silent
Auction in April that helped us reach our goal. In less than
10 months, Dragonheart raised the funds to purchase two dragon
boats. What a year! We will forever be thankful to all of
those that helped Dragonheart reach our goal.
What Do You Name a Dragon Boat?
The team members decided on the color ‘red’ for
our dragon boats. It was a way to honor our beginnings since
our borrowed boat was red. Also according to Chinese tradition,
the color red represents LIFE, JOY, and GOOD LUCK!!! All of
our Dragonheart members would agree that joining Dragonheart
and paddling together has brought all of these good things
into our lives. Our new boats were scheduled to arrive on
May 18, 2005, alas the weather was not cooperating. Our days
were cold and rainy. Worse yet, the water temperatures of
Lake Champlain were measuring a chilly 40°F.! We postponed
the arrival one week with the hope that conditions would improve
. . . and boy, did they!!! Our boats made their journey from
Toronto to Burlington on May 25th. What a difference a week
makes. The new delivery day was sunny, blue, and mild. Better
yet, the water had warmed over 20°!. With the help of
tow truck and the team, we joyously unloaded our new boats
and placed them into the lake. Our maiden voyage was joyous.
Lake Champlain has it own tradition. Word has it that a Loch
Ness-type monster named Champ lives there. Now, there are
two more powerful forces making their home in Lake Champlain.
They are Lady and the Champ, our beautiful red Dragonheart
dragon boats. You can see them out of the waterfront at the
Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center, our summer hosts
for the team.
What is an Eye Dotting Ceremony?
Before you begin dragon boating each season, it is customary
to ‘dot the eyes” of the dragons. A dragon boat
is ‘dressed’ during races and ceremonies with
a beautiful dragon head and tail. It is tradition to ‘awaken
the dragon’ at the beginning of each paddling season
to awaken her spirit. Each eye of the dragon is ‘dotted’
or painted in with red paint so that the dragon can see. Next
a stroke of paint is added to the tongue so that the dragon
can breathe. The ceremony is one more way to reinforce our
Dragonheart mission of helping women with breast cancer take
back control of their lives. Paddling together is empowering.
Our breast cancer survivor team is supported by our partners,
children, and friends who have joined us on the lake. All
of us are committed to awakening the dragon within. We feel
the power, strength, courage, and spirit of paddling together
in our dragon boats. At the end of the paddling season, the
process is reversed and the dragon is put to sleep for the
Who are the Dragonheart Drummers?
Our team has taken our camaraderie one step further. On top
of paddling together in the boat, we also drum together. Under
the guidance of Stuart Paton of the Burlington Taiko Group,
we have created the Dragonheart Drummers. Each week we get
together and learn the art of traditional Japanese drumming.
We call ourselves the Dragonheart Drummers. We showcased our
drumming talent after only 6 weeks of practice at Dragonheart’s
Pink Premiere in April of 2005. We reprised our number at
dragon boat camp in Florida a few weeks later. Stuart helped
the Dragonheart Drummers create an original composition called
“Awaken the Dragon.’ It was played on the docks
of the Lake Champlain Sailing Community Center for Dragonheart’s
First Annual Eye Dotting Celebration in June 2005. It was
the perfect way to awaken the dragons within each and every
one of the Dragonheart members and spectators. The Dragonheart
Drummers will serve as the opening act for the First Annual
Newport, VT Dragon Boat Festival in September 2005 as well.
the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center
Link to the Burlington