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When and where?

Dragon Boat season starts in early November in Christchurch, with "on the water training" although the more dedicated teams may start conditioning training early (eg at public pools or in the gym).

Practices continue till just before Christmas and resume a week or so into the New Year. 

Teams used to have a first opportunity to put their training to a test at the "earlybird" regatta - this coincides with Chinese New Year in early February. But recently Aoraki provide even "earlier" chances for racing. For those keen to get started we sometinmes have racing in August and September. But the first formal regatta is early December in the Ice Breaker. Soon after Christmas/New Year Break we head over into Banks Peninsular for the Super 12 Regatta at Akaroa. Then in February the Aoraki Open gets us into more formal Racing (250 metres and 500 metre races).

South Island's major regatta for the season - South Island Championships - is early/mid-March.

Where does dragon boat practice and racing take place?

In the past, practices have been on Lyttelton Harbour out of Magazine Bay into neighbouring Cass and Corsairs Bays. And up until 2007 Christchurch races were at Lake Roto Kohatu near the Airport.

But from 2007, races were run on the Avon River (Kerr's Reach near Porritt Park), then at Lake Pegasus (North Canterbury), or Lake Hood (near Ashburton)...

Kings Beach at Lake Pegasus

Training and practices are at various venues, including Owles Terrace near New Brighton or at Lake Rua or Lake Pegasus(especially if the Avon or Kaiapoi are unusable because of earthquake or contamination etc). Or occasionally on the Kaiapoi River.

What is Dragon Boating?

So what's a Dragon Boat? How big is it?

"Standard" Boats are about 12.5 metres long and about 1.16m at their widest. They weigh between 250 and 300kg. They have ten seats for paddlers, one for the caller ("drummer") at the front, and the sweep stands at the stern.

Pre-2009 Aoraki used old locally built wooden/fibre glass boats, but in the November 2008 we imported the first six of our "Champion" IDBF Spec boats from China. Later, another continer delivered four more Champion Boats to give us a fleet of ten identical Standard Boats, and in February 2016, Aoraki took delivery of two more new Standard Boats from Champion, plus three 'pre-loved' Champions from Auckland, which means we cna now race with three "flights" of five poat races. And this is what is needed at bigger events like the NZDBA National Champs.

In January 2013 Aoraki took delivery of six "Small" Boats ("Swift" brand from China). These are only used in some (less formal) regatta (such as Akaroa Super 12) and also for teams that are struggling to fill a boat at training.

How many are in a dragon boat crew?

The standard crew is 22, made up of:

  • 20 paddlers in pairs facing toward the bow of the boat, 
  • a drummer (or caller) at the bow facing toward the paddlers, and 
  • a sweep (aka steerer, tiller or helm) who stands at the rear of the boat.

Who does what? Do the paddlers have different roles?

The paddlers sit two-abreast on seats facing forwards, and use a specific type of paddle. The leading pair of paddlers (called "pacers", "strokes" or "timers") set the pace for the team. It is critical that all paddlers are synchronized. Each paddler should synchronize with the paddler diagonally in front of them. This ensures that the paddling pace is balanced and all energy is spent on moving the boat forward. The direction of the dragon boat is set by the Sweep, not the paddlers. The lead paddlers are responsible for synchronizing themselves. See Training Tips.

If paddlers are not synchronized, each successive pair of blades hits the water a fraction of a second behind the blades in front of them. To an onshore observer, this effect resembles the movement of a many-legged caterpillar or centipede; thus, a coach may discipline a team for "caterpillaring." During a race it is difficult to stay in sync as the sounds of other drums make it confusing or unreliable to time off the drum beat.

Very experienced paddlers will feel the response of the boat and its surge or resistance through the water via the blades of their paddles, and will adjust their reach, and the catch of their blade tips, in accordance with the power required to match the acceleration of the hull through the water at any given moment.

What does the Drummer do?

The drummer or callers may be considered the "heartbeat" of the dragon boat, and leads the crew throughout a race with the rhythmic beating of a drum to indicate the timing and frequency of paddling strokes (that is, the cadence, picking up the pace, slowing the rate, etc.)

More experienced crews like to set their own pace, so the Drummer's role is to issue commands to the crew through a combination of drum beats, hand signals and voice calls, and also generally exhorts the crew to perform at their peak. A Drummer is mandatory during racing events, but if he or she is not present during training, it is typical for the Sweep to direct the crew.

Good Drummers should be able to synchronize the drumming cadence with the strokes of the leading pair of paddlers, rather than the other way around. The Drummer remains aware of the relative position of the dragon boat to other boats, and to the finish line, in order to correctly "Call the race" and issue commands to the crew as to when to best surge ahead, when to hold steady and when to peak for the finish.

An expert level Drummer will be able to gauge the power of the boat and the paddlers through the sensation of acceleration, deceleration, and inefficiencies which are transmitted through the hull (ie. they will physically feel the boat action through their feet and gluteus maximus muscles).

How is the boat steered?

The Sweep (or steerer, helm, steersman, or tiller) controls the dragon boat with a steering oar similar in function to a tiller which is mounted at the rear of the boat.  Aoraki

The responses of the oar are opposite to the direction they take - if the Sweep pulls the oar right, or into the boat, the boat will turn left, and if they push out, or left, the boat turns right. 

The Sweep may work with the Drummer/Caller to call out commands during a race. In fact the Sweep has the power to override the Caller at any time during the race (or the coach during practise) if the safety of the crew is threatened in any way.

What do I need?

Aoraki is very keen to grow the sport in Canterbury, and the de-motivator for most teams is the cost. Aoraki charge entry fees to Regattas on a cost recovery basis (we are a not-for-profit organisation), as follows (excludes GST):

How much does it cost?
Team Fees:
Corporate, or Breast Cancer Survivor $2,500 (2 regatta)
Open grade (eg Clubs) $2,500 (2 regatta)
Chch School $500/regatta
Other NZ School $500/regatta
Adult teams from other cities
(Auckland, Wellington etc)
Overseas $600 (typically)
An annual Subscription is also levied, as follows (excludes GST):
  Aoraki NZDBA
Corporate, or Breast Cancer Survivor $150 pa $150 pa
Open grade (eg Clubs) $150 pa $150 pa
Chch School $75 pa $75 pa
Aoraki pass NZDBA subs direct to NZDBA.

Sweep School

Aoraki run training and accreditation sessions at the start of each season, and as required. Typically they start with a sessio on a Sunday in October to understand Safety, Calls, Race rules, theory etc. Then the next two Sunday are training on the water at Lake Pegasus (11 am start). The Sweep Training sessions are for any team member interested in developing Sweep skills, from novice to intermediate. Sweep trainers include Rick Smith and Evan Roper.

What ‘things’ do I need?

Aoraki provides (nearly) all the big stuff. We have bought boats for you to use, trolleys to get them into the water, trailers to take them long distances plus heaps of other gear. But there are a couple of things you will need.

Firstly, teams provide their own uniforms and personal gear. On race days (except Nationals), teams bring their own tents, shelters, seats, and tables. Entry to Nationals gets you marquee space and some chairs and a trestle table.

Teams provide their own paddles. Many teams use fairly heavy paddles that have been around for decades. These are great for training and most regatta, but for the big race days, you will need access to a set of modern paddles. IDBF spec 202A or similar T-bar (wood or fibreglass) paddles may be used but are not mandatory.

Teams can purchase paddles:

  • "Hornet" Paddles can be bought through the NZ agents, NZDBA, who also sell the “Swift” and "Champion" range.
  • Typhoon from Gone Paddling (Wellington Dragon Boat Festival). 


In Summer: Board shorts, singlet and jandals. Don't wear baggy tops with long sleeves as it will get wet and get in the way of your paddling. Don’t’ wear cotton - it gets too heavy when wet.
You can wear cheap sunglasses that don't fall off easy as you'll get splashed in the face a lot and a short peaked cap. The longer the peak, the more likely you'll knock it off.

Long pants are not allowed – they are dangerous in the water.

Bring a towel and change of clothes or warm tracksuit for the journey home or to keep warm for after training drinks / dinner with the team.

On cooler days, you should dress for the conditions: Thermal long sleeve top under your T-Shirt or singlet; bike shorts or thermal shorts under your shorts; dive boots or boats shoes.

Tip: if you train late into the evening, fill a 2 litre bottle with hot water and wrap in a towel before coming to training. Use it to rinse after training, it will warm you up.

Sunscreen and Hydration

Your teams will be in the sun when training and racing. Ensure they wear hats/caps, sunglasses for eye protection, reapply sunscreen during the course of the day and stay under shade as much as possible. If you see someone going pink, offer them sunblock – they’ll thank you for it.
You will need at least 2 litres of water per person and we also advise 2 L of sports drink.


Every paddler is a member of the paddling fraternity, so we should all watch out for each other. Do not leave your bags, shoes, paddles unattended. Lock your cars and keep your valuables out of sight

Other things your team needs to know

NZDBA require photo IDs at Nationals, so Aoraki will update our digital 'portraits' during the year.

Race Starter calls

A reminder that we are using the same standard calls used by NZDBA and IDBF at our regatta: "Are you ready?" - "Attention" - <hoot> and it's all on!
The timing between calls is the same, but it means the crews have a chance to pause the sequence if, say, they are sideways or tangled in the buoys etc.

Swimming and water safety

Nonswimmers are not permitted in the Dragon Boat. All crew members (including sweep and drummer) must be water confident and able to swim at least 50 metres unassisted in clothing.
From 2013, any person on a Dragon Boat on the water must be wearing an approved-standard PFD. Aoraki will ensure they are available, if your teams has not bought a set. They are $80-$100 each to buy.

All Crew Members must be aged 12 or older during training and racing.

Advise your team manager of any medication you might require whilst training (such as inhaler, insulin, heart sprays etc). Identify any trained first aiders in your team and BYO first aid kit. Managers must record details of each ‘next of kin’ in case there is a medical emergency while you are training or racing.

Please familiarize yourself with Aoraki’s Safety Operating Procedures (SOP). Each crew member must sign the Safety Waiver form.

Alcohol and Drugs

Aoraki DBA has zero tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol and drugs. World AntiDoping Agency (WADA) rules apply, please see IDBF website.
NO Alcohol or drugs may be consumed within the 12 hours before the use of a Dragon Boat. If any individual is caught breaking this rule during the training or competition the ENTIRE team will be either suspended from training or disqualified from the competition and will appear before the Board for disciplinary action.

Make It Greener

Aoraki has a “Make It Greener” policy. We ask that all participants not only take out what rubbish they bring to training and races, but pick up any extras left in the areas we use.
In particular, please leave the Pegasus area near the pump station tidier than when you arrived.


Earliest Beginnings

Dragon boats are believed to have originated in southern central China more than 2,500 years ago, along the banks of the Chang Jiang, also known as Yangtze. So that dates it to the same era when the games of ancient Greece were being established at Olympia. 

Dragon boat racing has been practiced continuously since this period. 

They first used a "dragon boat" to save a local scholar from drowning in the river and went to save his life. They now honour this feat on (or around) "the 5th of the 5th Lunar Month" every year (actually June in our calendar). 

Sources: Wikipedia 

Modern era.

The oldest of the modern era International 'Festival' Races were held in Hong Kong annually. The Hong Kong Tourism Bureau conducted HKIR in 1976, starting the modern era of the dragon boat sport.

The biggest dragon boat festival racing events outside Asia are in Australia, Europe, in the USA and in Canada. In Cananda, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal each host racing festivals which attract 5,000 athletes (around 200 crews). These regatta take multiple days to get through the 3-400 races.

IDBF Championships

The IDBF has organised World Nations Dragon Boat Racing Championships (WDBRC) for Representative National or Territorial teams every two years since 1995. In between the National Championship years, IDBF organises "Club Crew World Championships" (CCWC) for the world's top club-based crews.

Year Nations/Club Crews Host City Country


WDBRC1 Yueyang China
Vancouver Canada
1997 WDBRC2 Hong Kong Hong Kong
Wellington New Zealand
1999 WDBRC3 Nottingham United Kingdom
2000 -    
2001 WDBRC4 Philadelphia United States
Rome Italy
2003 WDBRC5 Poznan Poland
2004 WDBRC6 Shanghai China
Cape Town South Africa
2005 WDBRC7 Berlin Germany
Toronto Canada
2007 WDBRC8 Sydney Australia
Penang Malaysia
2009 WDBRC9 Prague (Racice) Czech Republic
Macau Macau


Tampa Bay United States


Hong Kong Hong Kong


Szeged Hungary


Ravenna Italy


Welland Canada
Adelaide Australia

Hillmorton ready to take on Australasia's best!