The sport of dragon boating is over 2000 years old with its origins steeped in tradition. The pageantry, the colors, the mechanics of dragon boating are educational and present a view into the past.
The legend of Chu Yuan
Over 2000 years ago Chu Yuan, poet, warrior and loyal aide to the emperor, fell victim to plots and deception and found himself out of favor at court. When the old emperor died, Chu Yuan was unjustly banished and wandered the countryside composing poems he hoped would be heard and heeded by the new emperor. His inconsolable desolation grew until one day he threw himself into the Mi Lo River. His devoted followers, learning of his death, rushed to search for his body. Fearing the fish might devour the body; they beat their paddles on the water and banged drums and gongs to frighten the fish. Today, athletes from around the world meet to commemorate Yuan’s sacrifice for honor and justice in the form of Dragon Boat Racing.
The Mississippi River Adventures acquired two dragon boats in late 1985 and brought the first dragon boat team to the Midwest in 1986. Teams from six states and two foreign countries participated in races as part of the Mississippi River Adventures annual canoe float (MADRAC). This successful event led to the first American Dragon Boat Association (ADBA) International Dragon Boat Race on the Navy Pier in Chicago on June 19, 1988. Teams from Canada, New Zealand, and Australia competed with eleven US teams from Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and West Virginia.
The ADBA formed a Midwest regional circuit in 1989 with events in South Haven, Michigan; Red Wing, Minnesota; St. Charles, IL; and Dubuque, IA. Burlington, IA & Cedar Rapids, IA soon joined the sport of Dragon Boat Racing.
The next several years brought exponential growth in the Midwest with sixteen festivals being serviced by 1994. The pace quickened as Cedar Rapids, IA (the Cedar River Dragon Boat Association – CRDBA) acquired boats in the mid 1990s. In 2001 Fort Dodge, Iowa purchased a pair of dragon boats. The efforts of these groups peaked with Fort Dodge, Iowa hosting the 2004 US Nationals.
Today, interested parties are lining up to get a slot in the busy Midwest schedule. If you plan to start a new event, call early to ensure an open weekend!