27 April, 2023

Dragon boating club takes off at Bribie

A NEW dragon boating club has just launched at Bribie and is searching for members to take on the challenge of this unique cultural sport.

By Makayla Hammermeister

A new dragon boat club has just taken off at Bribie Island and already has close to 70 members.
A new dragon boat club has just taken off at Bribie Island and already has close to 70 members.

Dragon boat racing originated in China over 2000 years ago as a rite to awaken the hibernating Heavenly Dragon and is still used today to commemorate the life and death of Chinese patriot and poet Qu Yuan. 

Following political unrest and war between Chinese states in 278 B.C. Yuan committed ritual suicide to protest against the corruption. 

Yuan was a beloved figure amongst the Chinese community and upon hearing of his death, people raced out in their fishing boat in a desperate attempt to save him, beating on drums and splashing their oars to keep the fish and dragons away from his body. 

To ensure he would not go hungry, they also scattered rice into the water. 

In 1991, the International Dragon Boat Federation was formed and dragon boat was officially recognised as a sport. 

Since then, the sport has rapidly grown in popularity around the globe, with nearly 50 million participants in China, over 300,000 in the UK and Europe and many thousands in Australia and New Zealand. 

Now, Moreton Bay’s newest dragon boat club at Bribie has just opened and already has close to 70 members. 

Founding member Michelle said there has been a dragon boat club on Bribie Island for some time now but it was for breast cancer survivors. 

“We identified a need for a community dragon boat club,” she said. 

“The fact that in just three weeks we got 63 members signed up is unbelievable.”

Michelle said the beauty of the sport is that you can start at any age, with their youngest member being 23 and eldest being 83. 

“Because there are 20 people in the boat, if you’re tired you can just stop and pull your paddle out and you’ll be carried along. Except if we all did it!”

Teams compete in 200, 500 and 2000 metre turn races in what Michelle described as a “splash and dash, blink and you’ve missed it”. 

With over 25 years of dragon boating experience, having represented Australia in Philadelphia, Berlin, Shanghai and Italy and also having served on the Australian Dragon Boat Federation, Michelle has big visions for the club. 

“We’ve entered our first regatta which is up at Kawana, it’s the last regatta before the state championships, which we have not entered! Not yet anyways!

“We have got two teams of ten entered – a mixed team and women’s seniors over 40s.”

Whilst Dragon Boat Pumicestone is very much a social club, Michelle expects many people strive for more after attending a regatta. 

“What normally happens based on experience is that people start at the social level, see where they can go with it and become much more competitive. 

“When you’ve got a large club, you can easily cater for all those different levels. Because competing is certainly not for everyone and we don’t want to pressure people into doing it if it’s not their thing. 

“Many just want to come and be social and soak up the view and the atmosphere.” 

However, there is much more to dragon boating than just the sport – it also has a rich history and culture. 

“There are traditions that we must follow like the dotting of the eyes at the beginning of each season to awaken the dragon,” Michelle said. 

“The traditional ceremonies where we feed the hungry ghosts. We throw into the water the rice packages and ask for permission to race and that is to ensure the safety of all paddlers.” 

All racing boats also carry the dragon head and tail as well as a drum. 

The International Dragon Boat Federation has been lobbying for the past 25 years to make dragon boating an Olympic sport, but Michelle said it may not be possible from an economic perspective. 

“The problem is the crew is so big and the drain on the Olympic village would be massive.

“We do however have our world championships and our national team, Auroras, who have achieved some great results on the world stage.

“So, there’s no reason why in a few years we couldn’t have juniors from Bribie coming through the ranks.” 

Anyone interested in giving dragon boating a go can get a 28-day free trial pass. 

Michelle said this pass not only allows people to try each of the different clubs in the area, but also covers insurance. 

Currently, Dragon Boat Club Pumicestone trains Saturday and Sunday mornings as well as Wednesday and Friday evenings to allow those working or at school to attend.


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