The Sport


Dragon Boat racing is a community and team sprinting water sport that develops strength, precision, and mutual respect between teammates.

I WANDER THROUGH THE BOUNDLESS: A History of the Harvard Dragon Boat Team by John Lian

Each paddler acts in concert with the others to move the boat efficiently. Timing and technique are needed to put power to good use. If you have never paddled before, these are easy to learn with practice! Dragon boating is a physically demanding sport, but you don’t have to be an experienced athlete to participate. You use your whole body to paddle. In fact, the power in a dragon boat stroke comes from your core, back, and abs, not your arms! Because we practice for two hours and sometimes have several races in one day, it is important to build endurance throughout the season.

Each Dragon Boat Includes:

  • Paddlers: 10-20 people arranged in pairs, paddling in time to power the boat
  • Steerer: One person guiding and steering the boat from the rear
  • Drummer: One person coordinating the efforts of the other team members from the front of the boat


The Dragon Boat festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet from the Chu Kingdom who lived during the Warring States period in ancient China. Well-known for his patriotism, Qu Yuan tried unsuccessfully to warn his countrymen against the attack of the neighboring Qin Kingdom. When the Qin general Bai Qi seized the Chu capital Yingdu, in 278 BC, Qu Yuan’s grief was so great that he drowned himself in the Miluo River.

Qu Yuan Chen Hongshou

Portrait of Qu Yuan by Chen Hongshou (c 1600s)

According to popular legend, the villagers desperately tried to save Qu Yuan after he immersed himself in the Miluo River, but they were too late. However, in order to keep the fish and evil spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body, they beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles. They also tossed rice into the river both as an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirit and to lure the fish away from disturbing his body.

The act of racing to search for Qu Yuan’s body became the cultural basis of dragon boat festivals today, which is held on Duānwǔ Jié, the anniversary of the Qu Yuan’s death. Other countries around China, such as Vietnam, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysai, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines, also celebrate the festival as part of the process of cultural sharing with China.

Interested in trying? Join us anytime!