10 or 20 athletes paddle single-blade paddles in unison to a drumbeat, spear-headed by a bellowing, commanding coxswain or helmsman. Dragon boating is gaining momentum as a very popular paddlesport across the globe.
Boats have elaborate and decorative features, classically the bow takes the form of a dragon-head and the stern a tail.
Man has always had a symbiotic relationship with human-powered watercraft whether it be for defence, war, trade, migration. Different continents stake claim to having original designs for mass-man water-travel; Vikings for their longships, Carib Indians in the Caribbean using 'kenus' or sea-going dugouts, even Pacific Islanders and Polynesians using va-as and outriggers.
However, dragon boating is very much rooted in Chinese history. For over 2,000 years traditional 30-men oared-longboats were used for naval warfare on the Yangzi River in China, eventually they evolved into a spectator sport known as 'competitive crossing' or 'Jeeng-Doo' – part race, part combat!
Dragon boating suffered much suppression by European empiricists in the 19th century as it was seen to disrupt water transport and the threat from regional 'arms races' in 30m-long, 80-man paddle-boats was very real.
Nowadays, dragon boating is getting more exposure in the media. Participation in the sport is ever growing with more nations competing at elite level and more corporations using it for corporate team-building. Positively two international federations are popularising the sport globally: the International Canoe Federation (ICF) itself and the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) with Headquarters in Beijing.
The sport is not Olympic. Prestige competitions includes the World Championships for national teams which are held on odd-numbered years (every 2 years) and the Club Crew World Championships, for crews representing their own clubs and not their countries, held on even years. Continental Championships are also held yearly.
Dragon boating also features at the inaugural Sport Accord World Beach Games in 2017.