How Dragon Boat Paddling Became Popular in the US

Dragon Boats have been around for over 2000 years. Ancient China was deeply entrenched in Dragon culture with the boats being used for religious ceremonies. Today the culture has evolved into a sport that has taken America by storm. This is how that came to be.

Development of Dragon Boat Racing

Chinese boat makers began producing ornately carved boats fitted with a dragon’s head, tail, scales and paddles representing the claws. These boats were then used in community festivals where 18-20 peddlers, a steer, and a drummer would compete against each other. The elders believed that the sport promoted teamwork, strength, endurance and thus promoted it to the greater China.

The First International Dragon Boat Festival

In 1970 the Hong Kong Tourist decided that they needed to host a festival to promote their city, little did they know that dragon boats were the real beneficiaries of their efforts. Soon afterwards the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was formed and the sport gained some structure. This allowed race organizers to start Dragon Boats Festivals in the United States.

Adoption by American-Asian Communities.

Asian-Americans who had migrated to the U.S found that dragon boat racing created a gateway for the younger generation to participate in Chinese culture. They introduced the sport at almost all their cultural events and spread the festivals to cities such as Houston which did not have a large Asian demographic.

Dragon Boat Festivals in Major American Cities.

By 1991 almost 50 major American cities had a recognized dragon boat festival. These festivals broke the stigma that the sport was only restricted to Asians. It also led to American boat makers getting into the dragon boat making business as they saw that the sport was feasible for families and competitive gaming.


Dragon Boat racing slowly began to be included in fitness regimes. Many physical education teachers and enthusiasts began introducing the sport to groups who wanted to work-out together. They also liked how the sport combined strength training and cardio making further improving its reputation. Analysts of the sport expect that advantage will take the sport to even more Americans.

Competitive Dragon Boat Racing

The IDBF has created a year-long season for professional dragon boat racing crews and many countries are now participating. The sport had been nominated to be included at the 2016 Olympic Games but the committee passed over it. The Dragon Boat racing World Championships in Adelaide were a success though and that should give the sport more promotion and hence, even more growth.

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