Dragon boat racing will provide one of the most colourful spectacles at the World Masters Games 2017 when the sport explodes into action at Lake Pupuke on Auckland's North Shore.
Forming part of the canoe-kayak programme (which also includes flat water canoeing, canoe slalom, canoe polo and waka ama) the dragon boats – complete with an ornate dragon's head at the bow and a tail at the stern – are powered by a team of paddlers seated two abreast.
The origins of the sport can be traced back to China. However, the birth of the modern sport grew out of the annual International Dragon Boat Festival staged in Hong Kong in the mid-1970s.
The sport has since spread to many parts of the world with the first competitive racing in New Zealand taking place around 25 years ago.
“It was originally a big corporate sport here in New Zealand,” explains Auckland Dragon Boating Association committee member Rob Pitney. “That is still partially true today, but now there are more privately managed teams.”
With more than 30 teams in the Auckland region and strong hubs out of the Christchurch, Wellington and Waikato regions the sport – traditionally organised during the summer months - has a solid participatory base across the country.
The boats are powered by either a team of 20 paddlers or 10 paddlers plus a caller, who sits on the front of the boat, bangs a drum and helps motivate the team “like a cox in rowing,” and a sweep, who sits at the back of the boat and steers the boat with a long sweep oar, who acts as captain.
Races are contested on flat water over the “flagship” distance of 500m or over the shorter sprint distance of 200m. “With a large number of paddlers over the age of 40 competing in the New Zealand competition, there’s likely to be a lot of local interest in the World Masters Games 2017 programme” says Rob.
”Dragon boating is the kind of sport you can continue participating in at a ripe old age and it is great way to keep fit and healthy offering a good cardio work out in a competitive environment.”
So what qualities does a good dragon boat racer need?
“Certainly a strong upper body and endurance helps, but the key is to be in sync with the rest of your team,” Rob explains.
With a significant number of paddlers from Australia, Asia, Europe and North America expected to descend on Auckland for the World Masters Games 2017 dragon boating is sure to prove a huge hit.
“It is the epitome of a team sport because everyone has to be working in unison,” adds Rob. “Timing is the most important element and the fact that men can compete alongside women is another added motivation. You can’t beat the excitement of race days, and competing against teams from other countries or cities adds even more of a competitive edge.”