So, in honor of this weekend's annual Dragonboat Race in the Blackstone River and in honor of the Providence Journal officially becoming my favorite news publication simply for reprinting this photo of last year's race... featuring someone... I know quite well, I have decided to learn about the history of dragon boating.
Dragon boat racing is one of the oldest forms of competition and sport in mankind. It originated in China in pre-Christian times and reemerged as an international sport in 1976. The crew of a dragon boat team usually consists of around 22 people: 20 manual laborers who paddle the boat, 1 drummer, and 1 steerer. Although this is only a general guideline... dragon boats can range from 10 paddlers to 50 paddlers.
The drummer is the "heartbeat" of the dragon boat and keeps the paddlers in unison because let me tell you, from what I've read on Wikipedia and other sites, it is absolutely CRITICAL that you are in sync with the rest of the team, especially the person sitting right next to you. The paddles or oars used in dragon boat racing are not attached to the boat in any way, shape, or form, so this makes it very difficult to stay in unison and you also can't leverage the mass of the boat at all and takes a lot of strength to row. And it is different from canoeing because in canoeing, you row with your back facing where you are going and with dragon boating, you FACE where you are going.
A race concludes by having a "flag puller" grab a posted flag before any other team. This originated because back in the day there was no such thing as "photo finishes" and instant replay, which was even adopted by the nation's pasttime, baseball, last week! If you want to see a badass "flag puller" in action, check the image up above.
Even though dragon boating dates back 2500 years and is the equivalent to China what the Olympics are to Greece, it is still very popular in today's times. It is organized by the International Dragon Boat Federation and is among one of the fastest growing team water sports in the world. There are 10s of thousands of partipants in over 60 countries. Wikipedia says, "The sport is recognized for the camaraderie, strength and endurance fostered amongst participants, and it has also become a very popular corporate and charitable sport." Boo-yeah!
SO basically, dragon boating is the shit. And on a completely serious note, I've heard that it is a really great workout and a lot of fun. If anybody is looking for a team to join or a new organization to get involved in, look out for dragon boating coming to your area. A lot of people, myself included, crack jokes about dragon boating, but it seriously is a pretty cool thing and I'm very proud to know someone who takes part in this sport.