A ' dragon boat' traditionally made of teak wood to various designs and sizes,
is one of a family of Traditional Long Boats found throughout Asia, Africa
and the Pacific Islands. It is now used in the team paddling sport of dragon
boat racing which originated in China over 2000 years ago.
While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part
of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international "sport" in
Hong Kong in 1976. For competition events, dragon boats are generally
rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails.
The standard crew complement of a contemporary dragon boat is around 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
or helmsman at the rear of the boat. Dragon boats vary in length and crew
size will vary accordingly, from small dragon boats with 10 paddlers, up
to the massive traditional boats which have upwards of 50 paddlers.
In the area around the Tian He District
of Guangzhou, Guangdong,
China, the paddlers will increase to nearly 80
or more. The races are a
colourful spectacle, with at least two boats
competing against each
other over distances from 200 to 2000 metres
and above. Not only are
strength, endurance and skill important but teamwork
and harmony of purpose.
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 Relief.