Whether you have tried it yourself, heard about it through a friend, seen it around Hong Kong or just enjoy having Tuen Ng Festival (Dragon Boat Festival) day off in June to kick off summer, we have all heard of the sport, dragon boating.
I personally learned about the sport when I first moved to Hong Kong. A friend introduced me to it and brought me along to one of her team training sessions to give it a go, and I was hooked. Years later I am a part of a competitive team here in HK that gets to compete against and train with some of the best fisherman and expat paddlers in HK!
On that note, today I am going to share a little bit more about this amazing sport, the history and culture it shares in Hong Kong and Southern China.
Dragon Boat is a sport that is believed to have originated in Southern China more than 2,500 years ago and is deeply rooted in ancient ceremonial, and ritualistic practices. Along with the tradition of dragon worship, the dragon is also believed to be the ruler of the water element, often being worshipped to encourage rainfall or ward off bad luck or evil. This is especially necessary during the fifth month of the Lunar Calendar (usually June, when Tuen Ng is celebrated) that in Chinese belief is an inauspicious month.
Legends tell that Tuen Ng Festival began as a commemoration of the minister and poet, Qu Yuan. During the time of the Kingdom of Chu, Qu Yuan was living under a government full of corruption and was accused of treason. Perhaps because of banishment, or perhaps out of despair (the legend differs slightly by source), Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River to escape the accusations and corruption.
Being an admirable figure in society, the fisherman of the area raced out paddling into the river to save him, dropping rice dumplings and beating their drums along the way to distract any fish or threats from reaching him first. This act is what started the tradition of Tuen Ng Festival as we know it today, inclusive of dragon boat racing on a river and eating rice dumpling, also known as zongzi, 粽子 in Mandarin, or zung, 糭 in Cantonese.
Today, Dragon Boat racing is a competitive sport that people from different countries all around the world take part in. The sport is competed in with teams of 20-24 paddlers, 1 helm and 1 drummer. The helm to steer the boat, the paddlers for strength to push the boat forward, and a drummer to create a rhythmic beat that serves to guide the paddlers, determines the frequency of the stroke, and helps to keep the paddlers in sync.
To this day, Dragon Boating can be seen all around Hong Kong, from our very own THS home in Aberdeen to Chai Wan, Stanley, Po Toi, Sha Tin and beyond!
Dragon Boating began as and continues to be a sport rooted in teamwork. It requires not just physical strength, but mental focus, and rhythm, pattern and synchronization. It can teach us so many important lessons about teamwork, strength and power, but also timing and restraint. It teaches us that to be successful we need all of these things and the collaboration with others and we need to keep pushing forward together.
For this reason I believe that this unique sport can be so beneficial to youth and adults alike. Maybe one day we could even bring Dragon Boating to THS! Until that day, check out this awesome community opportunity for youth to get involved in the sport: