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Dragon Boat Origins

Dragon boat racing originated in China more than 2000 years ago. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, a Chinese poet-philosopher named Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Mei Lo River to protest the corrupt regime of a Chou emperor. Hundreds of local fishermen raced out in their boats but failed to save him. They beat the water with their paddles and threw rice dumplings wrapped in silk into the river to stop his body from being devoured by fish. This became an annual dragonboat celebration to produce rain to secure a good harvest.

Dragon boats can now be found in more than 30 countries around the world and the festivals combine the athleticism with the ancient traditions. A standard dragon boat team consists of 22 people: a drummer beating time, 20 paddlers seated two abreast and a steersperson guiding a boat. The paddlers work together, stroking in time, moving toward the finish line, while the steersperson keeps the boat on a straight course. Ceremonial dragon boats in China may have as many as 60, 70, or even more paddlers and traditionally the paddlers stand up while racing adding to the spectacle.

A standard dragon boat race is 500 metres and takes the top crews just under 2 minutes. Other standard races can be as short as 200m and as long as 1000m with one historic race in China being 78km down the Yangtzee River.

Some of the original rituals are still practiced today like the “Awakening of the Dragon” by dotting the eyes of the dragon head on each boat. This ceremony is conducted to cleanse and bless the area of competition, the spectators, the competitors, and their boats.

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