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The Dragon Boat Festival and Its History

The DAA Dragon Boat Festival is on Sunday 25th September, and it’s our third year in a row running this event! The colourful boats, drummers and determined rowers certainly make dragon boat racing an exciting spectacle, but what does it all actually mean? To find out, let’s explore the dragon boat festival and its history in more detail…


What is a Dragon Boat?

So, first of all, what exactly is a dragon boat? Simply put, it is a type of rowing boat that is similar to the type used during competitive rowing, powered by a team of rowers. However, dragon boats are also decorated with a dragon’s head and tail – a mythical creature that was worshiped in ancient China – and are generally a lot more colourful! Traditionally the boats were made in China out of wood, although in modern competitive racing they are often composed of lightweight materials such as carbon fibre.


As for the crew, our dragon boats hold 16 rowers for the raw paddling power, a helm (or helmsman) to steer and a drummer to help set the pace and spur the team on.


The Dragon Boat Festival

The DAA Dragon Boat Festival is held at Exeter Quay, so it’s the perfect place for spectators to watch the event. Essentially the festival involves teams racing in heats against each other in the dragon boats to the sound of the drum beat from the drummer! All of that equals a lot of noise, shouting and splashing! The races can be competitive – and you might find yourself desperate to beat that team – but it’s still great fun, and anyone can take part as the minimum age is 12 years.



Dragon Boat Festival History

The Dragon Boat Festival is a bit unusual, so you might be wondering how it all came about. The festival first originated over 2000 years ago in China, although there are a few different ideas about precisely how it first started and why. In any case, it is sometimes hard to tell where the true story ends and legend begins!


One widely held belief is that it started in commemoration of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), a well-respected minister who was banished from his home after being slandered by corrupt ministers. During his time in exile he wrote several poems demonstrating his passion for his country, many of which are still famous today.


However, after hearing about the invasion of his home state of Chu, Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river in despair. It is said that the local people raced out in boats to save him, or otherwise retrieve his body, while also beating drums and splashing their oars in the water to frighten the fish and evil spirits away from his body. To commemorate the story and celebrate Qu Yuan, people still race in traditional dragon boats today.



So, do you fancy taking part in a great team event and raising money for Devon Air Ambulance? Just visit the Dragon Boat Festival event page to download your information pack and find out more!

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