History & Culture

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History and Culture

Technical Definitions

The Dragon Boat (Long Zhou) as defined within the Competition Regulations is a long displacement boat of an open design, that is based upon a rib less carvel form of hull construction, with the following distinguishing characteristics; no stem, hard chine bilge; W in cross section, minimum freeboard, punt-like entry and exit; rocketed keel that is set back from the twin rail boards and curved sheet line with upsweep extremities.


Traditionally make out of teak wood, the boat which originated in Southern China, is commonly called a “Chinese Dragon Boat’. The boat’s main distinguishing features, are a mythical Asian-style dragon head attached to the prow (front); a stylized dragons tail attached to the Stern (rear), with dragon scales painted along the sides of the boat.

On some types of dragon boat, a brass Gong is also mounted in the centre of the boat. The length of a boat may vary from around 8 meters to over 18 meters. The width and internal depth of the boat will vary, according to the length and purpose of the boat, as does the number of people in its crew, which will normally exceed ten (10), especially when in a competition.

Propulsion and Control – The Dragon Boat (Long Zhou) is propelled (moved through the water) by the muscular force of its crew sitting in a forward facing position and using small single bladed paddles as simple levers on the water. (June 04). The boat is guided (steered) through the use of a long steering oar that is rigged using Thole pins located at the rear of the boat or with a large paddle. A Chinese style drum, together with a Drummer’s seat, is situated in the bow, by which the stroke cadence of the crew is usually maintained.

The Legend of Qu Yuan

The Tuen Ng (Dragon Boat Festival) commemorates a well-respected historical figure, Qu Yuan (pronounced Chu Ywan), and his story that took place over 2000 years ago in ancient China.

At the time, with the corruption within the government of the Kingdom of Chu, Qu Yuan was falsely accused of treason by his political rivals. As a result, he was banished from the country. In despair and, perhaps as a final act of protest against the government, he threw himself into the Mi Lo River and drowned.

The Chinese people have never forgotten this desperate heroic act and when fishermen raced their boats to recover his body before it could be devoured by fish (beating drums and throwing rice dumplings into the river to distract them); they founded a tradition that continues to this day.


Each year, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (usually June), crews of paddlers re-enact that frantic rush to save Qu Yuan, by propelling long narrow boats with the dragon heads through the water, to the rhythmic beating of drums. It is not known how the dragon boat race came into being, but it is thought that over the years, they were added to ward off evil water spirits. This probably arose because the combination of the 5th lunar numbers is thought to be a bad omen and dragon boat races held, at this time, would ward off evil spirits; protect the health of the people and ensure a good crop each year.

Special foods are also eaten at this time of year, especially in Hong Kong, including replicas of the Rice Dumplings that the fishermen threw into the Milo River, all those years ago in a desperate attempt to save QuYuan.


Dragon Boating today – A Modern Sport and Recreation

In the 1970s, the Hong Kong Tourist Association (now known as the Tourist Board) decided to stage an International Dragon Boat Festival to promote Hong Kong. In 1976, the first Hong Kong International Races took place, an event recognized today as the start of the ‘Modern Era’ of Dragon Boat as a sport. The HKIR developed into an annual festival of enormous success and impressive press pictures of the Hong Kong Races went around the world.


Until the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was formed in 1991, the HKIR was the ‘unofficial club crew world championships’ of the sport. Crews who competed in the HKIR then went home and started their own Dragon Boat Associations, then the EDBF (European), the IDBF and the ADBF (Asian) Federations’. Three Federations who now govern Dragon Boating as practiced in over 60 countries.

Since the formation of the IDBF, the sport has spread rapidly throughout the world. Today, 30 years after the first HKIR the numbers show the truly impressive development of modern Dragon Boat Sport.


With nearly 50 million participants in China…

Over 300,000 in the UK and Europe, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Russia…

90,000 in Canada and the USA…

Many thousands in Australia and New Zealand and with the sport now spreading through the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific Basin…

Dragon Boat Sport, under its governing bodies, is a vibrant, effective and independent paddle sport.

Sport Racing – People Packed and Exciting!

Dragon Boat Competitions, under the IDBF and its Continental Federations (the ADBF and EDBF), have developed into a serious, high-performance, competitive sport, with many Dragon Boat Associations producing National Teams of elite dragon boat paddlers.

In IDBF Sport Racing, there are generally 18-20 paddlers per Standard size Dragon Boat and 8-10 paddlers in the Small Boat, plus a drummer and a helm (steerer).

 IDBF World Championships, EDBF European Championships, and ADBF Asian Championships are well established, as are Regional Championships in North America. Championship Medals are hard to come by and well deserved. A whole new ethos and a different set of racing values have developed from the Hong Kong International Festival Races.

There is no other paddle sport in which 22 people work together to create a Team result rewarded through the efforts of the whole crew, rather than a few individual performances. This harmony of purpose can only be achieved through many hours of training in the boat, learning to be a complete crew and developing the team spirit and understanding necessary to work together, as one unit, for the common good. 30 years after the first HKIRs, the numbers show the impressive development of Dragon Boat Sport. 50 million Dragon boaters in China and the sport, through the IDBF, has now spread to all continents’.

Festival Racing – an Inclusive Paddle Sport for All

As well as Sport Racing, Dragon Boat Associations have helped to develop the Festival Racing side of Dragon Boating too.

In Traditional Festivals, the boat designs and crew numbers can vary from 10 up to 50 or more paddlers, plus of course the Drummer and Helm.

Many Festival Races are successful due to the number of crews that enter just for the fun and excitement of the event. A lot of Festival Crews come from the ‘corporate market’ and compete in Festival Dragon Boat Racing because it is also a social event and a team building activity in which the strengths and abilities of employees are soon apparent.

The growth in the Festival Racing sce ne is enormous. For example, there are now event organizing companies, worldwide whose sole purpose is to organize dragon boat festival races each year. This is particularly true in Canada and the USA, where Sport Racing Crews also race in the Festival Races. In Europe, the Malmo Festival in Sweden attracts many hundreds of crews from companies and the community and the races last for a week. Organized through the Swedish Dragon Boat Association and the Malmo Canoe Club, the Malmo Festival Races and other such races in Sweden and many more throughout the world, generate funds for the Sport too.

One of the advantages of Dragon Boating is that you can easily transition from a fun Festival Crew with little experience to a high-performance competitive crew.


Modern Sport with Ancient Roots. A Sport for Everyone.

Dragon Boating is the mass participation paddle sport of today, with an ancient past and a very bright future.

It is attractive to the corporate market as a ‘community activity’, and also a high-performance sport for elite level athletes. This ability range full of tradition, culture and social interaction is highly desirable in today’s world.

Dragon Boating is a sport and recreational activity that can be pursued by all, anyone of all abilities and at every level of competition. That is the greatness of Dragon Boating.