About Dragon Boat Racing

About Dragon Boating


The renowned Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Tuen Ng, falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. It commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and minister known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry and who eventually became a national hero.

Qu Yuan lived during the time of China‘s first feudal dynasties and supported the decision to fight against the powerful state. Though his actions led to his exile, he wrote in order to show his love for the country. Legend has it that Qu Yuan felt such remorse after the capture of his country’s capital that, after finishing his final poem, he waded into the Mi Lo River in today’s Hunan province as a form of protest and despair to the corruption surrounding him.

Upon hearing news of this tragic attempt, villagers took boats and carried dumplings to the middle of the river to try and save Qu Yuan, but their efforts were in vain. They turned to beating drums, splashing water with their paddles and throwing the rice dumplings into the water – serving as both an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirit, as well as a means to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. These rice dumplings became the zongzi we know today, while the search for Qu Yuan’s body became the intense dragon boat races.

Present Day Races

Now, dragon boat races and other activities are held annually throughout ten sites in Hong Kong during this festive time. Thousands of competitors and supporters attend the various race days to take part in the festivities, parades, and entertainment events.

The canoes take the form of a traditional Chinese dragon, often painted in fierce vibrant colors that are reminiscent of the old war canoes. The team on board will work together to steer the boat to the finish line as fast as possible, while a member sits at the front and beats a drum to maintain morale and ensure the rowers keep pace and time. Visit The Culture Trip’s page on Dragon Boat Festivals to learn more.

Thrill of the Race

So, what should you expect from watching a dragon boat race? A dragon boat will consist of 20 paddlers sitting two abreast, a caller/drummer who sits at the front of the boat giving commands during the race, and a tiller/helm who is at the back of the boat steering. Teams can be all men, all women, or a mixed crew with equal numbers of both men and women. The goal is for all paddlers to work in unison to propel the boat forward from a standing start with the intent to cross the finish line faster than the competition. It’s a team sport in its purest form that encompasses the elements of power, speed, synchronization, and endurance.  

Competitive club teams train and condition themselves in the areas of endurance, form, mental focus, and most importantly, timing. At this level, dragon boating becomes a sport of inches and tenths of seconds at the finish line. It is an exciting event for its spectators as you watch near perfect synchronization that provides an impressive event of a cascade of boats bursting through the water!

Getting Involved

Are you interested in trying dragon boating? It’s a sport that is growing in the United States and is especially big in the Pacific Northwest. Both Vancouver, WA, and Portland, OR, have dragon boat clubs and opportunities for new paddlers to learn the sport. If you want more information on how to find local teams, visit the Dragon Sports USA page.

Join the Race

Signing up a team for Paddle for Life is a great way to try out dragon boating.