Dragon Boat Race

Dragon boat races are the most exciting part of the Dragon Boat Festival (aka Dunanwu Festival). On the river, Dragon boats, like a cluster of flying arrows, are marching on following fast paddling, drum and shout in order. The grand view always draws crowds of spectators along the riverside.

A dragon boat or "dragonboat" is a very long and narrow, canoe style human-powered boat now used in the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing which originated in China over 2,000 years ago. Dragon boats are generally brightly painted and decorated canoes. Ranging anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length, their heads are shaped like open-mouthed dragons, while the sterns end with a scaly tail. Depending on the length, up to 80 rowers can power the boat. A drummer and flag-catcher stand at the front of the boat. Before a dragon boat enters competition, it must be "brought to life" by painting the eyes in a sacred ceremony. Races can have any number of boats competing, with the winner being the first team to grab a flag at the end of the course.

For competition events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. At other times the decorative regalia is usually removed, although the drum often remains aboard for training purposes. In some areas of China, the boats are raced without dragon adornments.

The standard crew complement of a contemporary dragon boat is around 22, comprising 20 paddlers in pairs facing toward the bow of the boat, 1 drummer or caller at the bow facing toward the paddlers, and 1 sweep or tiller (helm) at the rear of the boat, although for races it is common to have just 18 paddlers. Dragon boats vary in length and crew size will vary accordingly, from small dragon boats with 10 paddlers, up to the massive traditional boats which have upwards of 50 paddlers, plus drummer and sweep.

The drummer or callers may be considered the "heartbeat" of the dragon boat, and 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 caller may issue commands to the crew through a combination of hand signals and voice calls, and also generally exhorts the crew to perform at their peak. A caller/drummer is mandatory during racing events, but if he or she is not present during training, it is typical for the sweep to direct the crew.

The paddlers sit facing forwards (unlike aft-facing seated rowers), and use a specific type of paddle with distinctly different craft. The craft stresses in order and lead by the strokes of the drummer.

Dragon boat race has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of folk ritual.

The competition is traditionally held as part of the annual Dragon Boat Festival observance in China. Today, annual dragon boat races take place in many areas of east Asia with significant populations of ethnic Chinese living there e.g. Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China. Dragon Boat Festival or Duanwu, referred to as the "double fifth", is the term that has become internationally known in the West.


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