About Dragon Boat Racing

What is dragon boating?

Equal parts sporting event and spectacle, dragon boating is a team sport that has its roots in ancient China. In the last 25 years, dragon boating has been revitalized, and is one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world. A dragon boat is a long, colorful boat, similar to a racing canoe. Each boat is propelled by a crew of 20 paddlers, a drummer and steer person. Races take place in heats on courses ranging from 250 to 1,000 meters.

Can anyone paddle a dragon boat? Do I have to be an athlete?

Dragon boating can work for people of all ages and fitness levels. What other sport do you know of where you can put people of different sizes and strength levels together and produce a successful team? No one person shines — the team must function as a whole in order to move the boat smoothly and quickly. There are premier athletes who excel in the sport. There are youth teams learning the sport. All skill levels are welcome; but persons with health limitations should talk to a doctor.

What is the connection between dragon boats and breast cancer survivors?

Twenty years ago, women who had breast cancer surgery were often told to be careful how they used the arm on the affected side to avoid lymphedema (chronic swelling of the arm). In 1996, Canadian doctor and professor, Don McKenzie, decided to test this advice by forming the first breast cancer survivors’ dragon boat crew.

He believed the teamwork could provide emotional support while the upper body exercise would help prevent lymphedema. McKenzie was proven correct. None of the women in the study developed lymphedema, all experienced greater health and well-being, and those who had lymphedema when the study began found their symptoms had improved.

As news of McKenzie’s findings spread, women living with breast cancer, as well as those who support them, began forming dragon boat crews. The movement has helped propel dragon boat racing into one of the world’s fastest-growing water sports.

About 150 breast cancer teams race in other parts of the world. Closer to home, there are teams in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, including teams from Mayo Clinic Rochester and Arizona. Throughout the year, dragon boat teams get together to compete in local and national races.

Hong Kong style racing

Hong Kong-style dragon boats are the most popular style in North America. Modeled after the boats used in Hong Kong, they are narrow, very sleek and long with a delicate and ornate head and tail. These boats seat 20 and fully loaded are only inches from the surface of the water. Hong Kong style boats race point to point with the winner determined by which dragon’s nose crosses the finish line first.