What Is Dragon Boat Racing?
Dragon Boating is actually one of the oldest sports in the world today, originating over 2000 years ago in the Southern provinces of China. The modern sport of Dragon Boating consists of a long canoe with twenty paddlers who sit ten long and two abreast, one drummer who sits at the front and keeps time, and a sweep, who stands at the back and steers. For the boat to move smoothly through the water, all team members need to be paddling in unison and take their timing from the front two paddlers who are called 'strokes', as they set the stroke rate.International standard race distances are 2000m, 1000m 500m and 200m sprints.
The sport has now spread around the world from Canada and America, to countries all over Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and here in Australia.
When competing at regattas, boats start from a standing position, the combination of strength and near perfect timing is necessary to get your boat across the finish line first. Endurance is also an important element of dragon boat racing and this goes hand in hand with the crew pacing themselves so that they don't fade half way in a race and ensures they have enough reserves to power across the finish line as many races are fought out in the last few meters and placing's often differ by split seconds. The sport of dragon boating is truly one of the most exciting team sports that anyone can participate in.
Dragon Boating is characteristically a social sport, and while it has the added benefits of working a whole range of muscles and develops both strength and endurance.
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History of BRD
The inception of the Brisbane River Dragons as a club began in the aftermath of a corporate dragon boat regatta held by the River Festival in Brisbane in 1998 as part of the on-river activities. From the people who competed in the dragon boat regatta, a core group of interested persons started meeting with the objective of establishing a sporting based dragon boat club in Brisbane with the intention of developing the sport here and competing in local, state, national and international regattas. Over the ensuing three months, several meetings were held to gauge support for a new club, and in December of 1998 the Brisbane River Dragons of South East Qld formed with the first members signing up. By the end of January 1999, the club had expanded to almost thirty members and competed in its first regatta as the "Brisbane River Dragons" in early February 1999.
The club initially undertook several small fundraising initiatives with product sales and leaflet distribution to establish a cash flow and appropriate insurance cover was obtained and has been maintained since that time. A boat was leased from the Gold Coast Chinese Community to enable the team to train in Brisbane, and an arrangement was made with the 18 Footers Sailing Club at Bulimba for the use of their boat ramp and storage facilities. Members of the Brisbane River Dragons at that time held full membership at the 18 Footers. The association also went back to where it all began and provided crew training for corporate teams in the 1999 and 2000 River Festival regattas.
The 1999-2000 summer season saw most of the team travel to Sydney to participate in the Penrith International Dragon Boat Regatta with some other paddlers from Canberra. Also in this season BRD began an affiliation with Dragons Abreast when a breast cancer survivor who paddled at the nationals in Sydney in 1999 sought us out and began paddling with us. The club has taken this affiliation to heart and has provided paddling support and coaching to the Dragons Abreast paddlers ever since. All dragons abreast members are full members of the association. The Dragons Abreast paddlers officially formed their own association known as Dragons Abreast Brisbane in 2015, however, BRD maintains its close association by sharing its facilities and equipment with this group.
In 2001, the few Dragons Abreast members that had joined and some of the Brisbane River Dragon paddlers went to the National Club Crew Championships in Darwin and paddled as a national Dragons Abreast team, and as a Queensland Dragons Abreast Team, in the newly designated category of cancer survivors. In 2002 the Club competed at state and national level when the national championships were held at Hinze dam on the Gold Coast. The Dragons Abreast affiliated ladies joined with other Queensland breast cancer survivors from the Gold Coast as the Queensland team in the cancer survivor category.
BRD then developed a sponsorship arrangement with South Bank Corporation which saw the purchase of two boats that were then repaired and subsequently used for all club training and regatta events.
In the early years, the association participated in the Brisbane City Council sponsored Real Action Women (RAW) program. Through this activity BRD introduced over 100 women to the sport and has retained several as association members. The association helped the sport grow by focusing on younger people through youth programs on a basis similar to the RAW program or through school based sport training.
BRD enjoyed rapid growth with new paddlers coming along every Saturday for training sessions, and the club now boasts over 150 members including a significant number of breast cancer survivors, some of whom compete with BRD teams, or paddle either socially or competitively with the Dragons Abreast Brisbane team known as Missabittatitti.
BRD as a club, has expanded from being a dragon boat club to also include the outrigger canoe discipline. Early associations were established with River City Outrigger Club and then the Brisbane River Dragons Outrigger Canoe Club. In 2015 the Outrigger Canoe Club merged with the dragon boat side of the house and is now formally known as the Brisbane River Dragons Dragon Boat and Outrigger Canoe Club Inc.
The club has now been in existence for 18 years. During that time, the club has moved from Bulimba to its current home at the Colmslie Recreation Reserve sharing facilities with Hockey Queensland. Through grants and a number of fundraising events, the club has been able to build a substantial fleet of boats including six (6) standard sized dragon boats, two (2) small sized dragon boats, four (4) racing OC6 outrigger canoes, several OC6 training outrigger canoes, and a number of smaller craft including OC2’s and kayaks for use by club members.
In 2015, the club also acquired and constructed its own clubhouse providing it with a greater independence from Hockey Queensland. At the present time, the club is looking to expand its footprint at Colmslie by further developing its facilities to best cater for future growth.
The club has developed and maintained a number of community based programs including Corporate Team Building programs, and proudly in recent times, developed an association with the Defence Force to provide dragon boat training as part of the Defence Force Soldier Recovery Program. BRD also stages sports regattas as part of the Dragon Boat Queensland sports calendar, and the annual Hakka Association Community Dragon Boat Regatta.
History in Australia
With the spread of Dragon Boating around the world, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was founded on the 24 June 1991 in Hong Kong with the founding nations of Australia, People's Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, and the United States of America.
Prior to the formation of the IDBF, dragon boat races were taking place around the world, and in June 1976, crews outside of China were invited to participate in the traditional Hong Kong Festival Races. From this, the sport has continued to grow with an estimated 50 million people taking part in dragon boat competitions annually around the world. More information can be found on the IDBF website.
In Australia, dragon boating began over 25 years ago when the Western Australian Surf Life Saving Association was invited to the Penang Festival. The following year invitations were sent to Australia for teams to compete in the then, unofficial world championships in Hong Kong.
State Dragon Boat Associations were formed around Australia in the years following, and today numerous dragon boat clubs have been formed throughout Australia. For more information on dragon boating in Australia and a full list of clubs, check the Australian Dragon Boat Federation (AusDBF) website.
Customs and Traditions
There are many traditional aspects associated with dragon boat racing that have evolved from religious beliefs and are embedded in the cultural heritage of China. Rituals are performed both prior to and after the races with two primary ceremonies carried out for the dragon boats. Firstly, they have to be "awakened" so that the dragons are not asleep in the races, this is done in a ceremony carried out by Buddhist monks who 'dot the eyes' of the dragons to awaken them.
Four days prior to the festival the dragonheads and tails are attached to the boats. To consecrate and bless the dragon boats and also make them strong and fierce for competition, a sanctioning ritual is carried out involving the burning of paper bills before them, along with a great deal of offerings and prayers to the gods to ward off evil and bring down blessing upon the boats. After the blessings, each boat is paddled on a perpendicular course away from the nearest temple and then back again with the drummer beating out the rhythm, this is repeated three times. Following this, the dragon boat races can commence. These rituals and the races themselves show the gods that the people honour them and in return will be protected from the evil spirits that reside in the water and will furthermore be blessed with health, happiness and prosperity.
There are variations on the traditions, rituals and meanings associated with dragon boat racing and while many of these are only practiced in China, dragon boating has developed into a modern day sport enjoyed by millions of people around the world and is one of the few sports that has such a colourful and interesting tradition still associated and practiced with it.
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