Steeped in Ancient Chinese History
Until the late 80s, the ancient Chinese sport of dragon boat racing was unheard of within the non-Chinese community. Today it is one of the fastest growing athetic events in the world.
Dragon boating owes much of its popularity to the dragon boat festival in Hong Kong, an event that has played host to international competition since 1976. Much of what is known about this unique sport has been handed down over the centries, filtering through these races in Hong Kong.
According to legend, in 400BC the Chinese Statesman and revered poet Ch'y Yuan drowned himself in the Mi Lo river to protest the corrupt regime of the Ch'u Dynasty.
It is said in the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in approximately 278BC, Qu Yuan, with his arms clasped firmly around a huge rock, walked down to the Miluo River and threw himself into its torrents. According to legend, it was on the shoare of the Miluo that Qu Yuan composed one of his most beautiful poems - a summary of his life and a farewell to the world. The following is a except:
Many a heavy sigh I heaved in my despair,Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time,I plucked soft lotus petals to wipe my welling tearsThat fell down in rivers and wet my coat front,I knelt on my outspread skits and poured my plaint out,And the righteousness within me was clearly manifest,I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phenex-figured carAnd waited for the wind to come, to soar up on my journey.
Local fishermen raced out in their boats to save him, but were too late. To prevent his body being eaten by fish they beat their paddles furiously on the water and threw rice as a sacrifice to his spirit.
Today we commemorate his death each year by racing at the spectacular Dragon Boat Festivals that happen around the world.
News of Qu Yuan's suicide spread quickly among the villagers. Hundreds of fishermen raced out in their boats in an attempt to save him, but to no avail. They beat their drums and splashed their paddles in the water to prevent fish and water dragons from eating his body. To ensure that his spirit would never waste away from hunger, the men scattered rice on the water.
History in Auckland
Canoeist did it first
1984 the North Shore Canoe Club entered a team into the Dragon Boat World Competition without ever training in a dragon boat and rumour has it they did exceptionally well. It open discussions to bring this sport to the shores of the New Zealand as a fun way to get people active and it took off.
Lycra, Floros and Street Parades
1988 Alan Smythe bought the boats and launched the event along with keen spokensmen Paul McDonald and Ian Fergusson running the festivals right here in Auckland, 1989 the team setup dragon boating in Wellington.
In those days lycra and floro colours were in. Queen Street was blocked off on a Friday afternoon whilst 100 teams strutted their stuff on floats deafening Auckland office workers with the loudest chants and songs. Those were the days when the council closed the main street and you could throw the best parade of the year just because you were high on adrenaline. This parade was then followed by an opening ceremony in the sheds on Princess Wharf. Then 2 days of 9 lane races giving loads of entertainment as boats regularly capsized or crashed whilst trying to surf the big wakes from speeding ferries and boats.
Races in following years were moved to the Viaduct Harbour, in front of the bars and restaurants. A shorter course but full of colour and crowd pleasing action. Our old style boats were sure to be a little shaky; giving the crowd at least one good capsize to entertain us. Crowds cheered and gathered to watch the races.
Move from privately run event to community run sport
2008 receassion hit, sponsorship was pulled, team fees were already prohibitive at $5,500 +gst for a maximum of 12 trainings during a limited 3 months in summer and 2 events - something had to change or risk the end of dragon boating in Auckland.
A group of coaches, sweeps and paddlers formed a non-profit incorporated society to run the sport in their spare time slashing fees in half, offering unlimited training over 6 month period, monthly races (weather permitting) all with zero sponsorship. Sacrifices were made, the premier event in Auckland Viaduct over two days was replaced with beach races savings thousands of dollars. Since then teams are very much at home with pop up marquees, and lake side events. The quality of paddling is always increasing with Auckland not only providing international certified races but our teams are also regularly travelling to World competitions enabling a clear pathway to world competitions for their regional teams.
2010 Auckland Regional Dragon Boat Races meet the IDBF requirements as an IDBF Certified* Regional Championships
GPS measured 200m, 500m, 2km races distances with marked lanes set out with a minimum of 9 meters span across the lanes with a minimum depth of 3.5m (Lake Pupuke depth ranges from 10m - 65m). Racing in IDBF certified boats with race timings recorded to the 1000 of a second, race certified cameras down the race course and across the finish line with photo finish, an IDBF certified officals, independant race director using IDBF 202A certified paddles and NZDBA Accredited Sweeps. 2km races are circuits of the 500m race track.
* IDBF Certified Regional Championships races are to the standard set out by the International Dragon Boat Federation