Dragon boating. There’s nothing quite like it. Once you see the vibrant reds, greens and golds on the water, complete with the rhythmic pounding of drums, you can’t deny the excitement of the activity that is dragon boating.

There’s a rich, cultural history behind dragon boat racing. It’s what makes this unique sport so special.

The mythology behind the dragon

Dragons hold a powerful symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. It’s the only mythical creature chosen to be one of the 12 in the Chinese Zodiac.

Rather than seen as a scary, frightening creature, rather, the Chinese see a dragon as a symbol of strength and power, especially with regards to water elements – rain, floods, storms and the like. So, a boat in the likeness of a dragon should surely be a sign of good luck to race in.

The cultural legends that led to dragon boating

First originating in southern China during the Warring States Period (402-221 BC), dragon boating started as a ritual to encourage the gods to bless their summer with rain, so crops could grow.

That’s one of the stories, at least! Another more popular legend says that dragon boat racing arose as a way to commemorate the famous poet, Qu Yuan.

Qu Yuan was a head advisor in the state of Chu. He was a proudly patriotic man, and upon hearing of the conquering of Chu, he drowned himself in a river due to great despair. This happened on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, between May 25th to July 24th.

This was a man much loved by the locals, and when they all heard of his untimely death, they rushed out in their boats, racing against each other and time to find his body before it would be eaten by fish. They dropped lumps of rice to appease hungry fish, and to scare them away, they hit their paddles against the sides of their boats, creating a cacophony.


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The dragon boats of today

Thus, the tradition was born.

Today, drummers commonly accompany the rowers, pounding a beat to keep the rhythm. The long boats are expansively decorated in all colours, each hoping to stand out beyond the rest.

Dragon boating is an international sport, reaching many corners of the world, and is commonly used to fundraise money for selfless causes.

In China, the practice of eating sticky rice dumplings bound in bamboo leaves (called Zongzi) is rampant during the fifth lunar month. The Dragon Boat Festival is an important national holiday, with over 2,000 years worth of tradition.


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Would you like to start dragon boating?

It’s never too late to pick up dragon boat racing. First, you’ll have to seek out a local club that is currently taking on new members.

You’ll find people of all ages and experiences in a dragon boat team. It’s a great way to connect with your community, especially if preparing for an upcoming charity race.

A dragon boat club is the best way for you to pick up this sport at your own pace. For more information on dragon boating, or joining a boat club, the team here at SSRS will be able to help.