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What Is Dragon Boating All About?

History of the Dragon Boat*

In ancient China, the Dragon Boat was used for religious purposes as a way of appeasing the rain gods.  Later Qu Yuan, the great warrior poet, committed suicide in the river Mi Lo, as a protest against the political corruption of the day.  To commemorate this sacrifice, the people began to organize Dragon Boat Races in his memory.  Since that time over 2000 years ago, Dragon Boat Racing has become a major part of Chinese culture, representing patriotism and group integrity.


In the 1970s, the Hong Kong Tourist Association (now Tourist Board) decided to stage an International Dragon Boat Festival to promote Hong Kong.  Since then the sport has spread throughout the world with nearly 50 million participants.  The races are a colorful spectacle, with at least two boats competing against each other over distances from 200 to 2000 meters and above. Not only are strength, endurance and skill important, but teamwork and harmony of purpose.  



What does a Dragon Boat look like?*

The Dragon Boat is deeply embedded in China's 'Dragon' culture, with each Boat having an ornately carved dragon's head at the Bow and a tail in the Stern. The Hull is painted with the Dragon's scales. The paddles symbolically represent the claws.



How many people fit on the boat?

The boats fit 20 paddlers (10 rows of 2), plus a drummer  (front of the boat provides a beat or cadence for the paddler’s strokes) and a helm (Steerer of the boat).   



What is the difference between dragon boat and rowing? 

Although dragon boating and rowing are both water sports, they come from different backgrounds.  Rowers sit single files in boats while dragon boaters sit two by two.  In dragon boating, the paddlers also face forward.



Is this a team sport?  

Dragon boating is great for relationship building & organizational strength.  Dragon boat teams provide an opportunity for a diverse staff of people to get to know each other through a spirited team-oriented activity.  Providing an equal platform for a CEO and a mail room clerk to work together, side by side, dragon boat racing is unique in its ability to bridge communication gaps by building strong, supportive relationships.   This also includes individuals sharing a common purpose such as going or having gone through a life-changing circumstance like breast cancer.  



What is the connection between Dragon Boats and breast cancer?**

A Canadian sports medicine specialist, Don McKenzie, at the University of British Columbia started a women's dragon boat team for women with a history of breast cancer.  He stated that "It is an approach to promoting health and raising breast cancer awareness that is driven by women with the disease. It reaches out to other women and offers them a message of hope and support. It is helping to change attitudes toward "life after breast cancer," and it encourages women to lead full and active lives. It is making a difference." Since then, there have been breast cancer survivor teams started in many different locations, including Jacksonville Dragon Boat Club! We are proud to support "In The Pink" (see community page) as we paddle together in solidarity. 



What is so different about Dragon Boat paddling? 

Teamwork is everything in Dragon Boat Racing.  Synchronicity is more important than strength.  A perfectly synchronized team will almost always beat a stronger, less coordinated team.   Take a peek at our Training Center page for a video on the dragon boat paddle. Our experienced coaches will guide our teams towards becoming one together while having fun!  



How do I join?

Take a peek at our Meetup website ( and sign up for an upcoming paddle. Write in the comments that you are a new paddler, and the coaches will ensure they meet with you prior to or have you join a newcomers paddle, depending on when you sign up.  We will always provide the paddle and lifejacket.  You also have three complimentary paddling sessions.  After that, you can go to the payments section of this website and pay a $30.00 per month membership fee which covers the boats, insurance, training center, paddles and lifejackets.  



What should I wear when I go to practice on the water? 

Wear comfortable workout clothes and shoes that you don't mind getting wet.  Quick-drying materials are beneficial, but not required. You can wear flip flops or no shoes on the boat, but shoes are recommended.  Since we are out in the sun, wear lots of sunscreen and bring a hat if possible.  Bring a bottle of water for hydration. 



What if I want to buy my own paddle and personal floation device?

You are more than welcome to bring your own equipment.  We recommend speaking to the coaches first as some festivals may have certain regulations.  Our club also offers paddles at a discounted rate.



Is a Dragon Boat paddle different than a SUP paddle, Kayak paddle or others? 

Yes, the Dragon Boat paddle is designed for a different water craft that moves at a different speed than other types of paddles.  Our paddles have a flat bottom versus curved like a SUP paddle. 



Do I have to pay extra for festivals?

Festival fees are not included in your fees, but the team does a great job coordinating discounted hotel rooms, team meals, etc. throughout the festival weekend. 



What should I bring/wear to Festivals? 

Festivals are all-day events that are fun, but there are a few items which will make the day more comfortable.  Bring a folding chair and a watch.  There are long breaks between races sometimes.  Bring a cooler with beverages (lots of water and sport drinks!) and a lunch.  There are sometimes food trucks or areas to purchase a lunch, but this is dependson the festival setup.  Snacks throughout the day are beneficial, as we work hard on the water so it is nice to refuel.  For festivals, there will be a team tent provided and our team brings a table for snacks and holders for our paddles.  


What should I expect at a Festivals? 

If you participate in a festival, the coach will tell you the following prior to the event:

  • What time to arrive the day of

  • Which team are you on

When you arrive, find the team tent and drop off your stuff.  The coach will tell you the times you are racing and which seats you are sitting in.  There will be a call time (referred to as marshaling) which is about 30 minutes prior to the start of your race (this may differ per race).  We will leave from the team tent and go to the boat loading area.  It is important to be on time!  If you are not, the team may not be able to race or you will be replaced with another paddler - you don't want to miss out on race day!  If you do not have your own gear, you can pick up a life jacket and paddle in the loading area.  We will then get in the boats and paddle to the start line for a nice warm up.  You will then paddle our race to victory!  After that, we will disembark the boats and line up to high-five any remaining boats in our heat.  Then head back to the tents to talk to our coaches about the race we just completed. 


Each festival differs in race lengths.  There are short courses like 200 meters and long courses up to 2000 meters.  Confirm with the festival's website for further details.  Each festival totals the times and categorizes teams differently.  This information will be clarified by your coach at the festival.    


What is the season schedule for Dragon Boat?

Dragon Boat season is typically February to December, though in Florida we can paddle all year.  Throughout these months we will attend various Dragon Boat Festivals (see schedule page). We hold Winter training from December to February.  We do more land-based training during the winter months. 

What is some of the lingo I hear?

Dragon Boating, like other sports, has its own unique vocabulary.  Below are a few examples of what you will hear with our team:

  • Hold the boat - Paddles buried at your hip, stopping the boat fully

  • Paddles up - Paddles up at the catch point, but not in the water

  • Ready Ready - Arms straight out in front of you, leaning foward, paddle parallel to the seat, blade parallel to the water to minimize wind resistance

  • Attention Please - Blades buried in water at the catch point (wet start) / No change in position but ready to start (dry start).  This instruction is only used during a race and you will be informed which start we are using by the coach  

  • Take it away - Begin paddling 

  • Let it run - Stop paddlings, bring paddles to a rest position on lap

  • Flare the boat - paddle tips on the water hoizontal to the water

  • Draw Left/Right - the paddlers on that side of the boat pull water at a 90 degree angle in towards the boat

  • Back paddle - paddle backwards, keeping pace with the front of the boat







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