About Dragon Boats

Dragon Boat Races at the Dragon Festival

The dragon boat races are an integral part of the Dragon Festival. Our goal for the races is to bring to life the history of dragon boat racing and to encourage everyone to participate in a team sport that originated in China. These sleek, ornately designed boats are each 40-ft long and under 4-ft. in width. Each comes with a drum to provide the rhythm for the paddlers. The character of each boat is shown through its intricately designed head and tail representing the most venerated mythical beast in Chinese folklore–the dragon. The dragon is believed to be a benevolent creature with powers to bring rain (that guarantees good harvest) and the power to ward off illness.

The Legend of Dragon Boat Racing

The history of dragon boat racing dates back 2,400 years to China. It originated as a day to commemorate the death of Wat Yuen (Qu Yuan) – a poet, minister, and counselor to the emperor during the Chu dynasty. The State of China wanted to conquer all states and asked them to sign a treaty. Qu Yuan advised him not to do so. But the Emperor misinterpreted this as his attempt to assume greater political power over the other advisors. The Emperor banished him to a remote area of southern China in the Hunan province. Despondent, he wrote one of his most beautiful poems and then threw himself into the river to express his despair and sorrow. Local fishermen raced to the tragic scene in their boats, splashing water with their oars in an effort to scare away the fish. They also dropped rice dumplings into the river as a way to distract the fish so they would not eat Wat’s body. The re-enactment of this event takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in Asia.

Dragon Boat Racing Today

While dragon boat racing originated in China, it is now a cross-cultural sport with events throughout the world, both at the local and international levels. Its popularity has made it the fastest growing team water sport, with clubs and races in more than 60 countries. The biggest event outside of Asia is in Sweden followed by the US and Canada. Recognized for promoting camaraderie, strength and endurance in its participants, the sport is also gaining grounds in corporate and charitable circles.