A dragon boat (also dragonboat) is a human-powered watercraft traditionally made, in the Pearl River delta region of southern China - Guangdong Province, of teak wood to various designs and sizes. In other parts of China different woods are used to build these traditional watercraft. It is one of a family of Traditional Paddled Long Boats found throughout Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands. Dragonboats are the basis of the team paddlingsport of dragon boat racing an amateur watersport which has its roots in an ancient folk ritual of contending villagers held over the past 2000 years throughout southern China. While 'competition' has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, dragon boat racing has emerged in modern times as an international sport, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976. But the history of dragon boats in competition reaches as far back as the same era as the original games of Olympia in ancient Greece. Both dragon boat racing and the ancient Olympiad included aspects of religious observances and community celebrations along with competition.
For competition events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. At other times such as training the decorative regalia is usually removed, although the drum often remains aboard for practice by drummers.
Dragon boat races are traditionally held as part of the annual Duanwu Festival or Duen Ng observance in China. 19th century European observers of the racing ritual, not understanding the significance of Duanwu, referred to the spectacle as a "dragon boat festival". This is the term that has become known in the West. (dragonboat translates in Chinese as longzhou, whereas duanwu translates in English as meridian in reference to the summer solstice.)
Dragonboat festival racing, like Duanwu, is observed and celebrated in many areas of east Asia with significant populations of ethnic Chinese living there e.g. Singapore, Malaysia, Riau Islands andGreater China. The date is referred to as the "double fifth" since Duanwu is reckoned as the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which often falls on the Gregorian calendar month of June, but also, rarely, in May or July. This is because Duanwu is reckoned annually in accordance with the traditional calendar system of China, which is a combination of solar and lunar cycles, unlike the solar-based Gregorian calendar system. In December 2007, the central government of the People's Republic of China added Duanwu, along with Qingming and Mid-Autumn festivals to the schedule of national holidays observed in the People's Republic of China, such is the importance of dragonboating in China today.
Modern dragon boat racing is organised at an international level by the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF). The IDBF, a Member of the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) recognises two types of Dragon Boat Racing activities, namely Sport racing, as practised by IDBF member organisations; and Festival racing, which are the more traditional and informal types of races, organised around the world, where racing rules vary from event to event.
- Sport racing distances are normally over 200 m or 250 m, 500 m, 1000 m and 2000 m, with formal Rules of Racing.
- A festival race is typically a sprint event of several hundred metres, with 500 metres being a standard distance in many international festival races.
There are also some very long endurance events, such as the Three Gorges Dam Rally along the Yangtze River (or Chang Jiang) near Yichang, Hubei province, China, which covers up to 100 kilometres and the Ord River marathon in Australia which covers over 50 kilometres. There is even a frozen mist and ice winter time dragon boat racing event held in Jilin, a city and province north of Beijing. The Missouri River 340 (545 kilometers) is open to canoe, kayak and dragon boats. Team Beauties and Barnicles took third place overall in August 2010, setting the current Guinness World Record for longest distance travelled in a dragon boat with a time of 38 hours and 5 minutes. A new Guinness World Record was created on 30th Dec 2011 for the Greatest Distance by Dragon Boat in 24 hours (relay) - 227km. This record is currently held by the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Association.
The IDBF has organised World Nations Dragon Boat Racing Championships (WDBRC) for Representative National or Territorial teams every two years since 1995. In between the National Championship years, IDBF organises Club Crew World Championships (CCWC) for the world's top club-based crews. Due to the outbreak of SARS in 2003, the Shanghai festival was moved to Poznan, Poland. Shanghai were awarded an extra sanctioned Nationals race the following year.
In 2005 the IDBF introduced a Corporate and Community World Championships (WCorcom) designed for crews that normally race in Festival Races and aimed at the 'weekend warrior' type of competitor and not the elite International standard or serious Club Crew competitors.
In 2006 under the patronage of the IDBF, the 1st World Championships for Breast Cancer Survivors - the 'Pink Paddlers' - were held in Singapore. The 2nd BCS World Championships was held in Miami, Florida, USA in July 2009, in conjunction with the World Corcom Championships
The 2006 CCWC took place at the Western Beaches Watercourse, in Toronto's west end. Spectators and dragon boat fans from across North America – and the world – came out to spend the day on Toronto's beautiful waterfront and cheer on their favourite Dragon Boat crews. Over 2000 competitors took part and the event generated over 2 million dollars Canadian for the local economy.
Both the Asian Dragon Boat Federeation (ADBF) and European Dragon Boat Federation (EDBF) also hold National Team Championships on alternate years to the IDBF National Championships and the EDBF have held Club Crew Championships since 1992.
COMPARISONS WITH CANOES AND ROW-BOATS:
A dragon boat, similar to a canoe, is a paddle-craft rather than a rowing-craft, and crew members paddle rather than "row". Dragon boat paddlers sit, crouch or stand facing forward in the direction of travel, i.e. facing the prow (front) of the boat, similar to crews in other paddling craft, whereas rowers sit or sometimes stand, generally facing aft or backwards. The paddles are not connected or attached mechanically to the hull of the boat, whereas the oars and sweeps manned by rowers are joined to their shells by a kind of hinged joint. which acts as a pivot point and allows for mechanical advantage. People who paddle dragon boats may also compete in other types of larger craft such as in outrigger canoe racing due to some similarities in training regimes and sporting ethos. But all are different, distinctive sports, with Outrigging and Dragonboating having significant cultural, ceremonial and religious aspects inherent to competition, aspects which are absent in canoe and kayak racing.
Canoes are derived from hollowed out tree trunks (either single log, or single log supported by one or a pair of outrigged float pontoons or else catamaran style double logs.); or from birch and other deciduous tree bark shells stretched over wooden frames. Traditional wooden dragon boats, however, derive from rafts of three lashed-together timber beams, similar to the long and slender bamboo rafts consisting of lashed bundles of hollow bamboo stalks which can still be seen in China today. The center beam acts as the keel with another beam attached on each side of it acting like a pair of sponsons for stability, preventing the center beam from otherwise rolling. It is the three lashed, rafted beams of old that give the Hong Kong style of dragon boats its characteristic hull form cross section underwater seen today, which is like the shape of the letter "W". Whereas a canoe or outrigger paddler sits INSIDE of the hull formed from a hollowed log that is wide enough to sit IN, dragon boat paddlers sit ON TOP OF the hull formed, traditionally, of the three-beam raft. The keel (the longitudinal centreline plank) is constructed above the level of the two, downward sloping garboard planks attached on each side of the keel, so there is a kind of tunnel hull shape running down the centerline. This unique design feature is a vestigal throwback to earlier primitive lashed-log raft forms on which modern hulls are based. Traditional wooden boats are slender and heavy, typically weighing in at approximately 1,750 pounds for a 22-person hull. As the sport of dragon boating has increased in popularity and spread to countries outside of Asia, many countries have switched to using dragon boats constructed of fibreglass and plastic resin, which are significantly lighter.
Similar to outrigger canoe (va'a) racing but unlike competitive rowing and canoe racing, dragon boating has a rich fabric of ancient ceremonial, ritualistic and religious traditions. In other words, the modern competitive aspect is but one small part of this complex of water craftsmanship. The use of dragon boats for racing and dragons are believed by scholars, sinologists and anthropologists - for example George Worcester, authoritative author of 'Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze River' - to have originated in southern central China more than 2,500 years ago, in Dongting Lake and along the banks of such iconic rivers as the Chang Jiang, also known as Yangtze (that is, during the same era when the games ofancient Greece were being established at Olympia). Dragon boat racing as the basis for annual water rituals and festival celebrations, and for the traditional veneration of the Asian dragon water deity, has been practiced continuously since this period. The celebration is an important part of ancient agricultural Chinese society, celebrating the summer rice planting. Dragon boat racing activity historically was situated in the Chinese sub-continent's southern-central "rice bowl": where there were rice paddies, so were there dragon boats. dragon boating is mostly celebrated in china
Of the twelve animals which make up the traditional Chinese zodiac, only the dragon is a mythical creature. All the rest are non-mythical (dog, rat, tiger, horse, snake, rabbit, rooster, monkey, sheep, ox, pig), yet all twelve of these zodiac creatures were well known to members of ancient Chinese agrarian communities. In China, dragons are traditionally believed to be the rulers of rivers, lakes and seas (so water) and to dominate the clouds, mists and rains which are of heaven. There are earth dragons, mountain dragons and sky or celestial dragons (Tian Long) in Chinese tradition. Mythical dragons and serpents are also found widely in many cultures around the world.
It is believed sacrifices through drowning may have been involved in the earliest boat racing rituals. During these ancient times, violent clashes between the crew members of the competing boats involved throwing stones and striking each other with bamboo stalks. Originally, paddlers or even an entire team falling into the water could receive no assistance from the onlookers as their misfortune was considered to be the will of the Dragon Deity which could not be interfered with. Those boaters who drowned were thought to have been sacrificed. That Qu Yuan sacrificed himself in protest through drowning speaks to this early notion. Furthermore, when rice seedlings are first planted, they are 'drowned' in rice paddies and eventually transplanted to be harvested later.
Dragon boat racing traditionally coincides with the 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month (varying from late May to June on the modern Gregorian Calendar). The Summer Solstice occurs around 21 June and is the reason why Chinese refer to their festival as "Duan Wu" or "Duen Ng". Both the sun and the dragon are considered to be male. (The moon and the mythical phoenix are considered to be female.) The sun and the dragon are at their most potent during this time of the year, so cause for observing this through ritual celebrations such as dragon boat racing. It is also the time of farming year when rice seedlings must be transplanted in their paddy fields, for wet rice cultivation to take place. Wu or Ng refers to the sun at its highest position in the sky during the day, the meridian of 'high noon'. Duan or Duen refers to upright or directly overhead. So Duan Wu is an ancient reference to the maximum position of the sun in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year or summer solstice.
This hot season is also associated with pestilence and disease, so is considered as a period of evil due to the high summer temperatures which can lead to rot and putrification in primitive societies lacking modern refrigeration and sanitation facilities. One custom involves cutting shapes of the five poisonous or venomous animals out of red paper, so as to ward off these evils. The paper snakes, centipedes, scorpions, lizards and toads - those that supposedly lured "evil spirits" - where sometimes placed in the mouths of the carved wooden dragons.
Venerating the dragon deity was meant to avert misfortune and calamity and encourage rainfall which is needed for the fertility of the crops and thus for the prosperity of an agrarian way of life. Celestial dragons were the controllers of the rain, the Monsoon winds and the clouds. The Emperor was "The Dragon" or the "Son of Heaven", and Chinese people refer to themselves as "dragons" because of its spirit of strength and vitality. Unlike the dragons in European mythology which are considered to be evil and demonic, Asian dragons are regarded as wholesome and beneficent, and thus worthy of veneration, not slaying. But if rainfall is insufficient drought and famine can result. Dragon veneration in China seems to be associated with annually ensuring life giving water and bountiful rice harvests in south central China.
Another ritual called Awakening of the Dragon involves a Daoistpriest dotting the bulging eyes of the carved dragon head attached to the boat, in the sense of ending its slumber and re-energising its spirit or qi (pronounced: chee). At festivals today, a VIP can be invited to step forward to touch the eyes on a dragon boat head with a brush dipped in red paint made of the blood of a chicken in order to reanimate the creature's bold spirit for hearty racing.
The standard crew complement of a contemporary dragon boat is typically 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 (a steerer) at the rear of the boat. Dragon boats however vary in length and the crew size will change accordingly, from small dragon boats with 10 paddlers up to the traditional boats which have upwards of 50 paddlers, plus drummer and sweep. In the area around the Tian He District of Guangzhou, Guangdong,China, the paddlers will increase to 80 or more.
The pulsation of the drum beats produced by the drummer may be considered the "heartbeat" of the dragon boat. The drummer leads the paddlers throughout a race using the rhythmic drum beat to indicate the frequency and synchronicity of all the paddlers' strokes (that is, the cadence, picking up or accelerating the pace, slowing the rate, etc.) The drummer 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 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 drummer's role is both tactical and ceremonial, unlike that of a coxswain of a rowing shell such as an 'eight'. Whereas paddlers face forward and the drummer backwards, it is reversed in rowing shells where all the rowers face backwards with the coxswain the only one in the boat facing forward and able to view the straight ahead course of the craft as it makes its way down the regatta course lane towards the finish line.
Good drummers should be able to synchronise the drumming cadence with the strokes of the leading pair of paddlers, rather than the other way around. As a tail wind, head wind or cross wind, may affect the amount of power needed to move the boat at hull speed throughout a race, a caller should also be aware of the relative position of the dragon boat to other boats, and to the finish line, in order to correctly issue commands to the crew as to when to best surge ahead, when to hold steady and when to peak for the finish. An expert level caller will be able to gauge the power of the boat and the paddlers through the sensation of acceleration, deceleration, and inefficiencies which are transmitted through the hull (i.e. they will physically feel the boat action through their feet and gluteus maximus muscles).
Traditional dragonboats with 40 to 50 paddlers are so long that the drum is positioned amidships (in the middle of the boat) so that all paddlers can hear it amidst the noise of heated competition. However, for the smaller dragon boats of 20 paddlers which are most often used in competitive sporting events, the drum is located just aft of the dragon headed prow.
Some crews may also feature a gong striker who strikes a ceremonial gong mounted aboard the dragon boat. A gong striker may sometimes be used as an alternative to a drummer.
The paddlers sit facing forwards (unlike aft-facing seated rowers), and use a specific type of paddle which (unlike a rowing oar or sculling scull) is not rigged to the racing watercraft in any way. Therefore, Dragon boaters are paddlers not rowers or oarsmen/women. They paddle in a general canoe style since canoes dragon boats, proa's and rafts are all distinctly differing paddle craft all paddled similarly variations exist due to the size and seating position in the boat (Note that the sweep is not a helmsman or 'coxswain', which are British-based naval and competitive rowing terms (coxswain is also a Canadian War Canoe racing term) for the person in charge of the boat. In dragon boating, the drummer takes charge, however if there is only a sweep and no drummer, the sweep generally takes charge.)
The paddle now accepted by the world racing federation has a standardised, fixed blade surface area and distinctive shape derived from the paddle shapes characteristic of the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta region of Guangdong Province, China, close to where Hong Kong is situated. The PS202 pattern blade has straight flared edges and circular arced shoulders based geometrically on an equilateral triangle shape positioned between the blade face and the neck of the shaft.
The leading pair of paddlers, called "pacers," "strokes" or "timers," set the pace for the team. It is critical that all paddlers are synchronised. Each paddler should synchronise with the stroke or pacer on the opposite side of the boat, that is, if you paddle starboard side (right) you would take your timing from the port side (left) stroke. The direction of the dragon boat is set by the sweep, rather than by the paddlers while actually racing, however for docking and other manoeuvres, individual paddlers may be asked to paddle (while others either stop the boat or rest) according to the commands given by the drummer or sweep. The two lead strokes are responsible for synchronising their strokes together with one another.
There are several components to a dragon boat stroke cycle:
1. The "reach and catch" begins the cycle and is preceded by a set-up torso rotation; the blade angle of attack (angle of entry relative to the water plane) appears from the side to be raked aft, however this is an optical illusion since the boat is advancing. Inserting the blade perpendicular to the water amounts to ineffective "lily dipping" or "tea-bagging" wherein the blade moves backwards in the water past the paddler's hips simply because the boat is moving forward.
A common misunderstanding is the "upper arm drive". In dragon boating the top arm's main role is to keep the paddle in place and not lose pressure by wobbling or go in a slant. Some think that the "push" allows an explosive de-rotation, but in fact it is simply an illusion that an otherwise under-used top arm is being useful. Pushing the top hand down changes the paddle entry angle to neutral in most applications of the stroke; the only plausible point where the top arm can participate in the stroke is perhaps after the bottom arm has initiated the pull and the paddle face is at or past the paddler's knee, to add a "kick" towards the back of the stroke. Overusage of the top arm to drive down will also result in excessive up-down movement on the boat and disturb its glide. A possible source of this misunderstanding is from kayaking sports, where the paddle design allows for both sides of the body to be integral to the stroke; the forward rotation of the "top arm" allows for both a return on one side and de-rotation of the other. It is also worth noting that in kayaking, given the paddler's position on the entry of the blade (the shaft is across the kayak), it is possible to have the top arm participate without having excessive downward force.
There is significant difference between the downward force of a paddler's weight being transferred from body to paddle, and the force of the paddler's top arm prematurely de-rotating the paddler's body.
2. The powerful "pull" stage sustains the forward momentum of the boat; the paddle is pulled backwards.
3. The "release" in which the blade is instantaneously drawn (skywards) while it is even with the hips of the paddler; because the boat is moving forward, the optical illusion from outside the boat makes the blade seem like it is being withdrawn at an angle that is raked forward. The release coincides with the set up rotation or recoil of the torso.
4. The "recovery" is the final stage of the stroke and consists of the rotation of the torso with the forward repositioning of the blade thrust forward into the optimal catch. By decreasing the time it takes between the release and the catch, the percentage of time in the cycle when the boat is decelerating (due to drag friction among other slowing forces) is minimised; therefore it is possible to perform a greater number of catches and pulls over a given race distance. The reduction in swing time (the duration that the paddle swings forward through the air) is achieved through active rather than relaxed repositioning of the blade forward and by reducing the weight of the paddle.
A key aspect is for the blade and shaft to be outboard and as vertical as possible in orientation. This means that the paddler has to lean part of his or her body outboard in order to maintain optimal paddle attitude. It this is properly executed at the catch, then the gravitational weight of the paddler "falling" on and driving the blade will generate an enormous impulse power that is not otherwise achievable, similar to a "high brace" type of paddle technique used in white water rafting and sea kayaking.
If paddlers are not synchronised to the two lead strokes, for example if a pair of paddlers takes their cue from the pair of paddlers sitting immediately in front of them, then each successive pair of blades hits the water a fraction of a second behind the blade just in front of them. Consequently, the stroke and back paddlers are out of synch or phase, similar to a domino effect or cascade/card deck riffle. So to an onshore observer, this effect resembles the movement of a many-legged caterpillar or centipede. A coach may therefore have to work with a team to minimise this "caterpillar" effect. During a race it can be difficult for novice crews to stay in sync within their own boat as the sounds of other drums can be distracting.
Very experienced paddlers sense the response of the boat to the application of their blades and the associated surging forward acceleration or deceleration during a prolonged recovery phase through the water via their senses as they sit braced into the boat sitting on the benches of the boat, and will continually adjust or tune their reach and catch of their blade tips in accordance with the power required to maintain continual acceleration of the hull through the water at any given moment, since boats seek to decelerate whenever propulsive power drops off.
The sweep, known also as the steersman controls the dragon boat with a sweep oar rigged at the rear of the boat, generally on the side and off centre, which is used both for ruddering as well as for sweeping the stern sidewards. The word "starboard" is Scandinavian in origin and refers to the wooden board for steer(ing), that is, the sweep oar. On some sailboats, an arm attached to a rudder is used to control the rudder and is known as a "tiller". Dragon boaters in Portland OR USA first used Taiwanese dragon boats fitted with sweep oars for steering that were mounted over the centre line or keel line of the boat, rather than of to the side and off centre. They referred to these centre-mounted sweep oars as "tillers" (even though they were really sweep oars) and the people who manned them also as "tillermen". However, the sweep oars are used for both ruddering and sweeping wherein the blade can come out of the water for an out of water recovery unlike a rudder to which a tiller control arm is secured. The term "tiller" is therefore misapplied.
Likewise, "coxswain" (pronounced cox'n), "cox" and "helmsman" are terms originally used in the British navy (like boatswain pronounced bosun) to refer to the person in charge of a small boat and this person was not necessarily the sweep or person at the rear steering the boat. This term was then transferred to the person in a sport rowing shell who called the stroke. On a dragon boat, it is the drummer who calls the stroke, though if there is no drummer aboard, the task can be transferred to the sweep. Some crews, particularly those from outside Asia, trivialise the role of the drummer, but both traditional and international competition officials call for an active role by the drummer, not decorative. So coxswain is not a really appropriate term, just as tiller is not. In Canadian war canoe racing, the sweep is in charge of the boat and is referred to as a coxswain.
The responses of the boat to the sweep oar are opposite to the direction of the oar grip - if the sweep pulls the oar grip right, or into the boat where the sweep is mounted on the port quarter (left rear), then the boat will turn left, and if it is pushed out, or left, the boat turns right. During a race, an experienced sweep in a well balanced boat (paddle power wise) will be able to steer the dragon boat with the sweep oar out of the water or with only minimal blade area immersed to minimise drag.
The sweep must constantly be aware of the boat's surroundings. Since the sweep is the only person in the boat who is able to control the boat looking forward (the drummer is seated facing backward) he or she has the obligation to override the caller at any time during the race (or the coach during practice) if the safety of the crew is threatened in any way such as an impending collision with another boat or a fixed or floating obstruction in the water.
The international standard racing rules call for each boat to steer down the centre of their respective lane and to not ride the bow wave (wash ride) of a boat in an adjacent lane by coming alongside to take advantage of the bow wave induced surface current. Wash riding is considered to be illegal under international competition regulations and is subject to sanction by referees or course umpires.
Information thanks to Wikipedia.