The History of the Sport
Dragon Boat Racing has ancient Chinese origins and it’s history has been traced back more than 2,000 years. The first participants were superstitious Chinese villagers who celebrated the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar. Racing was held to avert misfortune and encourage the rains needed for prosperity – and the object of their worship was the dragon. The dragon of Asia has traditionally been a symbol of water. It is said to rule the rivers and seas and dominate the clouds and rains. Over the years a second story was integrated to give the festival a dual meaning – the touching saga of Qu Yuan. Legend has it that poet Qu Yuan was banished from the kingdom of Chu after the King fell under the influence of corrupt ministers. Qu Yuan spent many years wandering the countryside and composing great poetry until, on learning of his kingdom’s defeat, he leapt into the Mi Lo River holding a great rock in a display of his heartfelt sorrow. The people loved Qu Yuan very much and raced out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river in a vain attempt to save him. They beat on drums and splashed their oars in the water, trying to keep the fish away from his body.
Today Dragon Boat Racing involves teams of up to twenty paddlers in a 40 foot boat with a drummer and helm, paddling frantically to beat the other teams down the course. The drums, shouting and colourful boats make it an impressive and exciting sport both to watch and to compete in.
The Sport Today
Dragon Boat Racing first featured competitively in the UK in September 1980 at the Hong Kong in London Chinese Festival. Races held on the River Thames were won by the Richmond Canoe Club in both the Men’s and Women’s classes. In 1981 racing featured in the World Canoe and Kayak Racing Championships, held at the National Water Sports Centre, Nottingham. The Lincoln Imps crew won this 500 metre event.
The formation of the DBRC (Dragon Boat Racing Club of Great Britain) in June 1985, was the first serious attempt to organise the sport on a national scale in the British Isles. With the three Hong Kong wooden boats imported for the London Festival in 1980, the DBRC raced fairly regularly during 1986/87, and with the support of the HKTA, built the first fibre-glass dragon boat in the country.
After making its debut on the BBC TV’s ‘Blue Peter’ programme, in May 1986 a dragon boat was raced from London to Nottingham via the canal system by a crew of soldiers in aid of charity. The crew paddled 180 miles (including 180 portages for canal locks) in 9 days and raised over £4,000 for Sport Aid en-route. In 1986 and early 1987 specialist dragon boat groups were formed in Sheffield, Liverpool and Tyneside (although none of them had dragon boats, at this stage).
In July 1987, following an initiative by the DBRC, these groups came together to form the British Dragon Boat Racing Association – the BDA, which was formally constituted as the governing body for the sport of Dragon Boat Racing in the UK at an inaugural meeting held at the National Water Sports Centre, Nottingham.
The 1st National Championships were held in October 1987 on the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park, where 19 crews contested the 500m races. Elmbridge Kayak Club were the first BDA National Champions over this distance. During 1988 the sport expanded rapidly when over 20 events were held in the UK and the BDA was recognised by the Central Council for Physical Recreation (CCPR) as the sport’s governing body and admitted into its membership.
However, the sport of Dragon Boat Racing was not recognised by the Sports Council until 1992 and the BDA as its Governing Body had to wait until 1994 for such recognition.
Despite recognition, the BDA, as a non-Olympic sport, has yet to receive any grant aid towards either the development of the sport or to support its very successful crews at international level.
Great Britain has been involved in international competition since the inauguration of the first World Championships held in Yue Yang, China in 1995. GB Squads have competed in every European and World Championships held since then.
Great Britain runs squads in:
- Junior A (U18)
- Junior B (U23)
- Senior A (over 40)
- Senior B (over 50)
- Senior C (over 60)
Each squad will then run crews of Open, Mixed & Ladies teams and could be in small (10 person) boats or standard (20 person) boats.