Noise of drums echoes back some 150 years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 5:05am

The history of Aberdeen's dragon boat races goes back about 150 years when the fishing community's parade commemorating ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan evolved into a competition.

"It was quite disorganised and spontaneous at the time, and the scale was smaller," said Chan Fu-ming, who is organising committee vice-chairman of what is now a major event.

Men on fishing boats would dive into the water and swim over to the passing dragon boats to join in the race, Chan said.

There were no rules on the number of rowers, no awards and even no official starting line.

It was a different story yesterday. Sixty teams took part - 10 teams of 50 people each in the large-boat category, and 50 teams of 20 people in medium boats. There were dragon boat clubs, student and corporate teams.

But a couple of traditional rituals remain. Each of the large boats is presented with a special flag, as the teams beat their drums and splash the water with their paddles in return.

The teams then launch miniature dragon boats made of paper, complete with auspicious words for a safe voyage written on their flags - a traditional blessing whenever fishing boats go back into the water after maintenance.

In recent years, the Aberdeen dragon boat clubs have been promoting the sport throughout the city.

Cheng Chi-keung, 43, the South Eagles Dragon Boat Association's team captain, said the club had been recruiting outsiders, with some members living as far afield as the New Territories.

"Winning isn't that important. Having more people taking part makes the event more fun and more successful," he said.

There are about 70 members in Cheng's team, from teenagers to those over 70 years old.

Chan, of the organising committee, said rowing techniques had also evolved. When he was young, he was taught to bring the paddle back high above his head so that it made a big splash each time it hit the water.

"If you sat near the end of the boat, you'd get to drink plenty of seawater," he said. Now, rowers hold the paddle down for more efficient use of force.