Dragon Boat racing is one of the fastest growing and most popular sports in the world and yet its history can allegedly be traced back over 2000 years. Legend has it that a minister in the Chinese Kingdom of Ch’u became a victim of downsizing in the 4th century BC and was sent into exile. Much dejected at losing his job and pension entitlements and with a rather large mortgage to finance, Ch’u Yuan threw himself in the Mi Lo river. Ch’u Yuan underestimated the strength of his popularity amongst the local fishermen who saw his struggles in the river and raced to help. The fishermen took to their boats and raced as fast as they could to the spot where Ch’u Yuan was last seen. They beat their drums and splashed their paddles in the water in grief and in an attempt to keep the river dragons away from Ch’u Yuans body. Quite why or how a sport evolved from these rather sad and confused events is unknown, the ancient Chinese writings are rather sketchy on this point. For all of us involved in the sport we remain ever thankful to the late Ch’u Yuan for his selfless sacrifice and the subsequent evolution of our sport.
Modern Dragon Boat festivals often reenact these events although splashing of paddles in the water is generally considered to be poor technique by the more hard core Dragon Boat teams.
Dragon Boating has been extremely popular in the Far East for many years but it is only relatively recently that the sport has surged in popularity in Europe. In the UK the sport has boomed to the extent that it is estimated that 40,000 people in 800 crews take part in events each year. There is a well established racing calendar, both nationally and internationally, as well as a more relaxed series of corporate and charity events where the pace is a little less frantic. Dragon Boating is unique in that people of all ages and abilities can compete together or just come along for a paddle and a pint. The staggering growth of the sport is set to continue in the 21st century as more and more people realise the appeal of Dragon Boating. An inclusion in the Olympic games is generally expected and who knows, the next Steve Redgrave may well be a Dragon Boater. OK, that may be stretching the point but you never know. Poor old Ch’u Yuan probably had no idea what he was starting when he took his last dip in the Mi Lo river all those years ago.