Dragon Boat Racing in South Africa

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Dragon Boating was introduced to South Africa in 1992 when two beautiful flag-catching dragon boats were presented to Cape Town by our sister city I'lan County, Taiwan. To celebrate this, a group of canoeists and lifesavers raced and won a best of three against the visiting Taiwanese Navy fleet who had delivered the boats to South Africa.

In 1995 DBSA cc was formed to run corporate regattas in the V&A Waterfront. From these a team was gathered to compete in the First World Championships in China. This was followed by the 1st Cape Town International, with seven teams in the international section (Britain's Royal Raspberries and Germany's Holstein Hamburg, the newly formed Cape Town Paddlesnappers and Pirates teams, a team of top canoeists, the Portuguese Youth League and an SA Navy team). There were also four corporate teams. All racing was done using the wooden flag-catching boats but without the flag-catching finishes.

The following year six fibreglass racing dragon boats (financed by Old Mutual) were launched at the V&A just in time for the 2nd Cape Town Dragon Boat Racing International in November 1996. Amongst our visitors this year was a team of Royal Marines.

DBSA continued to organise annual Cape Town Internationals until 2004, with the number of teams in both the International and the Corporate sections growing exponentially. Teams from Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, United States and Germany became regular visitors and for the 2004 CCWC in Cape Town, these countries were joined by teams from Russia, Canada, Holland, Switzerland and Australia.

Including corporates in Internationals not only helped to finance the events, but happily several of the Corporate crews decided to take it up as a regular sport and form their own clubs. The first of these was Safmarine team who in 1998 became the Safdragons (now Mujaji) while the German School (DSK) team has been a club challenge to all South African adult teams since 2003.

In 2003, the Western Cape Dragon Boat Association (WCDBA) was given custodianship of the City's two wooden flag-catchers. Regular league racing was instituted in 2006 using these flag catchers. They are not only very beautiful boats, but the final act of the flag-catchers leaping up over the dragon's head and stretching as far as they can to catch the flag introduces an extra element of drama.

dsk vs paddlesnappers

A very special team in Cape Town is the amaBele Belles; Africa's first breast cancer survivor team. A promise made in Rome 2002 to Australia's Dragon's Abreast was finally realised in early May, 2006. The Belles trained stoically throughout our southern winter and competed very successfully at the first BCS World Championship in Singapore. Their trophy and medals were however just a symbol of their inner triumph over cancer and an affirmation of their joy in life. Singapore was a very special experience for all who took part.

Other places in South Africa with dragon boat racing are the Johannesburg area of Gauteng (started in 1999) and Parys in the Free State (started 2004)

Both WCDBA and GDBA focus on developing the sport at the junior level. Not only are they the paddlers of the future, but getting kids into teams gets them away from the gang-and-drug culture and is it gratifying to hear the team managers' stories of boys who "started paddling four months ago and have been off drugs since".

There is nothing like the promise of an overseas competition to get paddlers paddling throughout our southern winter. South African teams have participated in Internationals and World Championships in Hong Kong, Macau, Nottingham, Rome, Poznan, Prague, Singapore, Penang, Taipei and in numerous cities in China (including YueYuan, Beijing, Huangzhou, Xaimen, Miluo, Nanning, Zhaoqing, Zhanjiang, Shauguan and Guangzhou), and fun events such as the Venetian Vogalonga and the first crossing to Robben Island.

Dragon boat racing in the West
  • 1976 First international dragon boat races were organised in Hong Kong.
  • 1980 HKTA sent three Dragon Boats to London.
  • 1981 First formal Dragon Boat Races in Great Britain.
  • 1987 British Dragon Boat association formed
  • 1990 European Dragon Boat Federation formed
  • 1991 International Dragon Boat Federation formed
  • 1992 Asian Dragon Boat Federation formed
  • 1992 two Taiwanese wooden flag-catching boats given to the city of Cape Town
  • 1995 First IDBF World Championships for dragon boat racing as a modern sport,
            Yue Yang China. (South Africa participated)
  • 1995 Paddlesnappers, the first dragonboat club in Africa formed in Cape Town
  • 1996 First IDBF Club Crew World Championships (in Canada)
  • 1996 Don McKenzie launched the 1st Breast Cancer Survivor team, Abreast In A Boat
  • 2006 amaBele Belles, the first BCS team in Africa, launced on 6th April 2006
  • 2006 September/October The 1st BCS World Championships.

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