Fully loaded, a dragon boat seats 20 paddlers, a steers person and a drummer who sits at the front of the boat and beats out the stroke. The boats themselves are usually multi-coloured, sometimes with dragon scales on the sides, and during races a dragon head and tail are traditionally mounted on the ends of the boat. Races are usually between 200 and 2000 metres in length, and last between 2 and 10 minutes.
Chinese history refers to the 2000-year-old story of the statesman and poet Qu Yuan. After urging his king not to sign a peace treaty that he believed to be a deception was expelled from the kingdom by the unscrupulous king. Humiliated and tormented over living in exile, Qu Yuan chose to drown himself in the Miluo River as a protest to political corruption.
While he was drowning, local fishermen rushed out in boats to try and help. To try and stop his body from being eaten by dangerous fish and water dragons they beat drums and thrashed the water with their paddles. To nourish his weakened spirit, the fisherman threw bags of rice into the river.
The beating of drums and throwing rice to feed Qu Yuan’s spirit are traditions that have propagated through the ages to dragon boat races of today.
The modern era of wide-spread national and international dragon boat racing can be said to have started in the early 80’s in Great Britain, and in 1986 in North America with a demonstration race that took place at the Expo 86 World’s Fair, in False Creek … which was won by the first FCRCC men’s dragon boat team!
Since then, members of FCRCC have represented Canada on many occasions internationally. The False Creek Women’s team was the best in the world for many years – and is still today counted among the best teams anywhere. Most recently, at the 2009 International Dragon Boat Federation World Championships held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, a Team Canada crew, coached by FCRCC’s High Performance Coach Kamini Jain and with many crew members from FCRCC, won the Gold medal in the top mixed-gender category race, Premier Mixed 500 metres. Many FCRCC members were on crews racing in other age/gender categories at Prague, too, winning many more medals for Canada. Many FCRCC teams also won medals at the more recent 2014 Club Crew World Championships in Ravenna, Italy.
The popularity of the sport in B.C. has grown dramatically over the years, to the point where regattas and festivals are held all over the province and almost every weekend from late Spring to early Fall. The largest local event (and one of the largest in the world) remains the Rio Tinto Alcan Festival, which is held every June on the weekend closest to the First Day of Summer, with racing taking place on almost the same False Creek waters as originally used in 1986.