Dragon Boats In NC
North Carolina’s 3,500 square miles of inland water are home to a wide variety of world-class sporting events, from bass fishing tournaments to Jet Ski championships to Olympic Kayak trials. Recently, North Carolina paddlesport enthusiasts have added to this list with the introduction of an ancient sport quietly gaining popularity around the world: dragon boat.
What’s a “Dragon Boat”?
A typical dragon boat is a 40-foot, 600-pound canoe paddled by a team of 20 people. A steerer balances at the stern to keep the boat on course, and a drummer perches in the bow, beating a steady cadence. Dragon boaters sit two to a fixed bench with their feet braced against ridges built into the canoe. A successful team of paddlers will keep in perfect time with each other, making dragon boat races a spectacle of teamwork and synchronization.
Races in the southeastern United States are often 200-meter-long sprints. For a practiced team, those 200 meters will be the hardest 50-something seconds of the day. A day of dragon boat races includes 2-3 heats before the championships in the afternoon, giving spectators time to pick and cheer on their favorite teams.
Fully dressed for race day, a dragon boat is painted with brilliant colors and decorated with a carved wooden dragon head and tail. Drummers and steerers adorn themselves in everything from cultural costumes to feather boas – anything to fire up their team.
While dragon boat may be only a performance event at this Olympics, many hope it will reach Olympic competition status by 2010. To some, this is a surprise, since this rapidly growing sport was largely unknown outside of China until the 1980s.
Ancient Tradition – Modern Day
It may be a young sport to much of the world, but dragon boat has been popular in China for thousands of years.
Chinese legend has it that in 278 BC, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the first great Chinese poet Qu Yuan jumped into the Miluo River and drowned in a dramatic display of patriotism. Villagers raced across the river in their canoes to help Qu Yuan.
Some versions of the legend say that villagers threw sticky rice dumplings down into the water to keep animals from eating Qu Yuan’s body. Other versions say the dumplings – called zongzi – were tossed into the water as a sacrifice to the memory of Qu Yuan.
Today, it is tradition to eat zongzi and race dragon boats on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, a date that falls in early June. The Charlotte Dragonboat Festival, brings this tradition to North Carolina with a stunning array of delicious food, bright costumes, dance demonstrations and, of course, a healthy dose of competitive spirit.
Visitors to this free event can relax on the shore of Charlotte’s beautiful Lake Norman watching the races while sipping bubble tea and enjoying noodles, kabobs and other ethnic delicacies from a host of different countries. Music, dancing and the Miss Asia Pageant with traditional costumes are a feast for the eyes and ears throughout the day.
More adventurous festivalgoers might even be recruited by one of the local recreational teams to help fill a boat for a race or two. The Charlotte Dragonboat Festival is filled with first-timers paddling for local organizations as well as for cancer research and other good causes. And while the day’s grand finals will showcase some of the fastest boats in the Southeast, dozens of other teams will race with the attitude that every boat on the water is a winner.
Charlotte Dragon Boat
Charlotte is also home to the Charlotte Fury, a team that races across the Southeast and saw several first-place finishes last year in its first full season as a team. If you happen to stop at Midtown Sundries on Lake Norman for a burger and some live music, you may notice the Fury slipping away from the dock in their 40-foot practice canoe. Twenty people leaning, dipping, and pulling in one fluid motion.
For the annual Charlotte Asian Festival, Fury members disperse and join other teams, helping encourage widespread participation among area groups.
How To Paddle a Dragonboat – The Basics
- Hold the paddle with both arms extended and nearly locked in front of you, one hand grasping the paddle at the top and the other just above the blade.
- In tandem with other paddlers, bend forward at the waist, rotating at the torso. When you’ve reached as far forward as you can, the paddle should be perpendicular to the water, and your torso should be rotated toward the inside of the boat.
- All twenty paddlers will dip paddles into the water at the same time and pull back using strength from the legs, stopping at the hip.
- Simultaneously, the team pulls paddles out of the water and completes the cycle again.
Tip: Despite the urge to look down while digging your paddle into the water, keep your head up and watch the person diagonally in front of you. This keeps you in sync – and helps you breathe!
The more you practice this easy technique, the easier it is to add power to every stroke.
By Beth Leysieffer
added: December 28, 2008
updated: January 8, 2009
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