Dragon boat racing is an age-old tradition, originating in China about 2000 years ago. From dragon boat festivals to modern-day competitive racing, dragon boating has become one of the fastest growing water sports in the world. Here are five fascinating truths about this beautiful sport.
- Legend has it that dragon boat racing originated when renowned Chinese poet and advisor to the king, Qu Yuan, committed suicide by drowning himself into the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month, as an ultimate act of political protest. In attempt to recover his body, the villagers paddled out on their boats, beating loudly on drums and splashing their paddles around in the water in order to deter the fish from eating his corpse. In remembrance of Qu Yuan and the villagers’ attempt to rescue his body, an annual dragon boat festival is held on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar. It is believed that the winning team will lead a happy and prosperous life.
- Dragon boat racing gained momentum in 1976 and became recognised as an international sport after the Hong Kong Tourism Bureau organised the first international race. Today, dragon boat racing is practised in over 50 countries throughout the world as a competitive sport.
- During the opening ceremony of a dragon boat contest, it is customary to attach the head and tail of a dragon to the canoe shaped boats. A priest or a public community leader is called upon to dot the eyes of the dragon with red paint. This symbolic gesture is practised in order to bring the dragon to life before the race commences.
- Dragon boats vary in length and in crew size, ranging anywhere from small boats of 10 paddlers to up to 50 or more paddlers, including the drummer and steersman.The paddlers’ strokes are guided by a drummer situated at the front end of the boat, ensuring that their strokes are synchronised with each other. A steersman (also called a sweep) sits at the back end of the boat and navigates the direction of the boat.
- Oxford University Press Southern Africa has participated in the sport since 2010, raising funds for literacy through the annual Paddle to Read dragon boat race. This year’s event – taking place on the second anniversary of the icon’s passing – will see Oxford and shareholder partner, The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, paddle for reading to celebrate and pay tribute to Madiba’s legacy and dedication to education. All funds generated from the race will go to Wordworks, a non-profit organisation supporting early language and literacy learning among children from historically disadvantaged communities in South Africa. The event is open to the public and free to attend. Get on board on 5th of December 2015, 9am-12pm, and make your way to the V&A Waterfront to watch the action!