Dragon Boating is not a new sport people have been participating in this sport for over 2000 years,
The growth and interest of modern day dragon boating owes a great deal to Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA). The HKTA headed the charge into the sport when it arranged the first Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival International Races in 1976.
Trinidad and Tobago entered the dragon boat arena in 2006, through persistence and determination and with the guidance and leadership of Mr. Franco Siu Chong and a team of Chinese business men, organisations were approached and encouraged to organize their employees into teams of dragon boat clubs and crews just in time to host the inaugural Chinese Bicentennial Regatta. There was no turning back for this sport from that time.
The International governing body, the International Dragon Boat Federation was formalized in 1991and has been responsible for assisting countries to establish club level dragon boating, develop rules and regulations, and the overall management of the sport worldwide.
There are over 50 million people around the globe who hop into a dragon boat on any given day; it is a sport for all ages and crosses all cultural divides, it brings people together from all walks of life and over oceans and desserts thousands of miles apart.
The Dragon Boat Festival traditionally commemorates the tragic event that took place in ancient China more than 2000 years ago.
The Government of Chu was a corrupt one, and after jealous rivals falsely accused Qu Yuan (pronounced Chu Ywan) a well loved statesman, warrior and poet of treason, he was banished. In despair and, perhaps as a final act of protest against the government, he threw himself into the Mi Lo River and drowned.
The Chinese people have never forgotten this desperate heroic act and when anglers raced their boats to recover his body before fish devoured it, (beating drums and throwing rice dumplings into the river to distract them) they founded a tradition that continues to this day.
The dragon boat festival of Qu Yuan falls on the Double Fifth - the fifth day of the fifth moon in the Chinese Lunar Calendar.
Each year, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (usually June) crews of paddlers re-enact that frantic rush to save Qu Yuan, by powering long narrow boats with the ferocious heads of dragons mounted on the prow through the water, to the frenzied, rhythmic beating of drums. It is not known how the dragon boat prow came into being, but it is thought that over the years, they were added to ward off evil water spirits.
This probably arose because the combination of the fifth lunar numbers is thought to be a bad omen and dragon boat races held at this time, would ward off evil spirits; protect the health of the people and ensure a good crop each year.
THE EYE DOTTING CEREMONY
Dragons in South East Asia are looked upon with great reverence and are worshiped. Chinese Emperors of old called themselves "Dragons". Dragon Boats have good spirits, dedicated to providing enjoyment for the racers. Before the races commence a Taoist Priest will offer prayers to the spirits of the dragon boats.
The priest then makes offerings of fruit, jasmine tea, alcohol, and rice. These offerings appease the spirits of the water and calm them in preparation for the racing ahead. If that was not done, legend has it that the Water Gods would clash with the Dragon Spirits of the boats, with potentially disastrous consequences.
Also offered at this time is symbolic money, bank notes from the Bank of Hell. The smoke from these notes goes to Heaven and appeases the Gods to ensure safety and good racing. He will also throw some notes on to the water for the Sea Gods. Having warded off evil spirits with his earlier prayers the priest can now bring the dragon boats to life and make them strong for the racing ahead.
Once the dragons have been successfully resuscitated, the priest offers thanks to heaven and the Gods, paving the way for future successful races. The boats are now ready to do battle.
CHINESE LION DANCE
At dragon boat festivals, the Chinese Lion Dance provides entertainment, a cultural display and expels evil spirits.
The lion dance is also called the Game of the Lion.
Lions are not indigenous to China and have always been considered mythical beasts by the Chinese people.
Lions are highly valued and symbolically associated with purity and protection
A dragon boat is a long (approx 12 meters) and narrow human powered boat.
For racing events, dragon boats are always decorated with Chinese dragon heads and tails and are required to carry a large drum aboard.
The standard crew of 22 persons, comprise of 20 paddlers in pairs facing toward the bow of the boat, one drummer at the bow facing toward the paddlers and one helms person at the rear of the boat.
The drummer leads the crew throughout a race with the rhythmic beating of a drum to indicate the timing and frequency of paddling strokes (that is, the cadence, picking up the pace, slowing the rate etc.)
The paddlers sit facing forwards, and use a specific type of paddle. The leading pair of paddlers, called 'Pacers' set the pace for the team.
It is critical that all paddlers are synchronized. Each paddler should synchronize with the paddler diagonally in front of them. This ensures that the paddling pace is balanced and all energy is spent on moving the boat forward.
THE HELMS PERSON
The direction of the boat is set by the helms person not the paddlers. The helms person may work with the drummer to call out commands during a race. The response of the oar are opposite to the direction they take. - if the helms person pulls the oar to the right, or into the boat, the boat will turn left, and if they push out, or left, the boat turns right.
During a race, an experienced helms person will be able to steer the dragon boat effectively according to the wind, the wake of other boats, and other factors to achieve optimum speed.
The helms person must constantly be aware of the boat's surroundings, and has the power to override the drummer at any time during the race (or the coach during practice) if the safety of the crew is threatened in any way.
(Acknowledgements to Wikipedia)
There are several components to a dragon boat stroke.
1) Reach. Reach refers to the action of the paddler leading up to and beginning an individual stroke, though not the placing of the paddle into the water itself (see element number 2, "catch"). The paddler wants to place the paddle as far ahead of him or herself as possible, ideally stretching the paddle up past the bench immediately in front of the paddler. By placing the paddle as far ahead as possible, the paddler is maximizing the amount of time the paddle will be pulling through the water, and therefore maximizing the amount of force he or she is putting into making the boat move.
If the paddlers on a team do not reach far enough forward on their strokes, they will simply not be able to put enough power into each stroke to be competitive, and will be wasting most of the energy that they're exerting.
2) Catch. The second component of the dragon boat stroke refers to how the paddle is placed down into the water, how the paddle "catches" the water. Ideally, the paddle should not simply be dropped into the water, but some force should be exerted downwards on the paddle, to make it "dig" into the water. The blade should be fully buried to the end of the blade once catch is completed, in order to pull the maximum amount of water.
3) Pull. The next phase of the stroke refers to the movement of the paddle through the water, once it has been planted by the "catch" phase. With the paddle as far forward as the paddler can place it, the paddler pulls the paddle back through the water.
The stroke should be as straight as possible, because any other movement of the paddle (for instance, slightly perpendicular) would contribute nothing to the forward movement of the boat, and would, in fact, weaken the general forward movement of the boat by pulling the boat slightly in another direction.
4) Exit. This refers, obviously, to the action of taking the paddle out of the water at the end of the stroke. The ideal dragon boat stroke should be quite short, and as much as possible in front of, rather than behind the body. The stroke should end between the knee and mid-thigh of the paddler, and no further back. Beginning dragon boaters (and alot of dragon boaters who've been doing it for years) have a problem with too long of a stroke. They may think they're getting more power into the stroke by continuing it beyond their knee-mid thigh, but technically, since the stroke is powered by rotation of the trunk of the body forward rather than backward, pulling the paddle through behind your body results in a wasted expenditure of energy.
Pulling back too far also would necessarily result, timewise, in the paddlers being able to get less strokes in in a race than with a proper stroke, since they're wasting all that extra motion. The number of strokes a team is able to get in during a race can make the difference (along with other factors such as rotation and total technique), for example if boats are evenly matched and sprinting towards the finish line.
And that's the basics of the dragon boat stroke! Of course, there are many other factors the dragon boat paddler has to master. Things like rotation and timing. Also, at various phases of a race, different elements of the stroke technique will be emphasized for different effects. But for the beginning dragon boat paddler, knowing just the four elements of proper stroke technique is the most important thing to understand. In the future, I'll add more on the other factors.
(Acknowledgement to Michael Diack of Tragically Quick Dragon Boat Team)
International Dragon Boat Federation - www.idbf.org
British Dragon Boat Racing Association - http://www.dragonboat.org.uk/
European Dragon Boat Federation - http://www.edbf.org/
Dragon Boat Canada - http://www.dragonboatcanada.org/
11th WORLD DRAGON BOAT RACING CHAMPIONSHIP - http://www.hungary2013.dragonboat.hu