The origin of Dragon Boat Racing dates back over 2000 years to the Chinese legend of Qu Yuan, a 4th-century statesman, poet, and advisor to the king. Qu Yuan was exiled from the ancient state of Chu after his advice to the king was misinterpreted as an attempt to assume greater political power. For his offense, Qu Yuan was banished to a remote area of Hunan Province in southern China.
The dishonor of being exiled was a heavy burden on Qu Yuan. Under the weight of his sorrow, he threw himself into the torrents of the Milou River – but some local fishermen raced out onto the water to save the drowning Qu Yuan. The fishermen wildly beat their drums and splashed the water with their paddles to prevent the water dragons and fish from eating Qu Yuan.
The modern Dragon Boat Race is based upon a traditional re-enactment of the race to save Qu Yuan. Over the centuries, village fishing boats went out each year in a symbolic search, and began to take part in races that evolved into Dragon Boat Racing’s present form.
Today, Dragon Boat Racing is one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world. The World Championships of Dragon Boat Racing have been held annually in Hong Kong since 1976. In 1991, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was formed in response to the explosive growth of the sport. Based in Hong Kong, the IDBF boasts over 100 member organizations in more than 40 countries. Since 1995, World Championship events have been awarded to Canada, China, New Zealand, England, Australia and the United States. A Commission was developed to oversee the standardization of equipment, rules and regulations.
Within a relatively short period of time North America has emerged as an international Dragon Boat Racing powerhouse. What’s most exciting is the growth of the sport at the grassroots level. Dragon Boat Racing is great fun for anyone, young or old. Participants of any level of fitness can quickly adapt to and develop a passion for this sport. Although most international crews are either all male or female, national and regional events attract primarily mixed teams from corporations, public service groups, and clubs sponsored by small businesses and high schools.
Dragon Boating and Breast Cancer Survivors
In 1996, Dr, Donald McKenzie, a Canadian sports medicine specialist at the University of British Columbia, started a dragon boat team for women with a history of breast cancer. The women formed the team Abreast in a Boat and tested Dr. McKenzie’s belief that this activity would benefit breast cancer survivors by providing upper body activity in a challenging and supportive environment.
Breast cancer survivor dragon boat teams caught on in Canada, Australia, the United States and other locations around the world. The International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission (IBCPC) has emerged and encourages the formation of breast cancer survivor teams. This international network of BCS teams periodically generates an international festival and competition in which members of Machestic Dragons have eagerly travelled the world to participate.