Dragon Boating


Dragon boats are long, elaborately decorated canoes with a dragon head and tail attached. There are 10 rows of wooden benches inside the boat for the crew to sit, to astern. There is room at the helm for the drummer and a space at the stern for the sweep (steersperson) to stand. They are steered with what appears to be a long extended paddle sticking out the back of the boat. During race festivals, boats are also equipped with traditional drums. The beating of the drums keeps the paddlers in time and adds to the excitement and spectacle as the boats battle against each other in a race for the finish line.


Dragon Boat racing is still in its infancy in Australia, however it is probably the oldest sport in history, dating back more than 2,000 years with its origins in China.

In Australia Dragon Boat racing may just be another sport, but in China it is considered to be highly traditional, and is taken very seriously. Dragon Boat festivals in China continue to be held for the purpose of procuring sufficient rain for a good harvest. Large boats take crews of up to 50 paddlers or more, and with the dragon’s head at the bow and its tail at the stern, the race simulates a real dragon fight. According to legend, heavy rains are the result, symbolised by the scattering of rice over the waters. As part of the ritual, rice cakes and dumplings are eaten and offered to the spirit of Qu Yuan.

In Australia Dragon Boat teams are made up of 22 people – 20 paddlers, a drummer and a sweep (steerperson). Dragon boat racing is generally sprint racing, which requires precise timing and technique be combined with raw power. Racing distances vary from 200m to 7km, with occasional marathon distances of 100 km. In Australia the normal race distance is 500m, which top teams complete in 2 minutes flat.


In Adelaide, Dragon Boat racing began in 1985 as a lead up to the State’s 1986 Jubilee 150 celebrations. Six racing boats were built as part of a youth training programme and three ceremonial sampans were donated by Penang, a sister city to Adelaide. The inaugural South Australian dragon boat regatta was held on 16 February 1986 on the Port River, and the following year the Dragon boat Association of South Australia (DASA) was incorporated to promote and administer the sport locally, now known as Dragon Boat SA.