Dragon boat racing has its roots in ancient China, dating back thousands of years when competition was held as part of religious ceremonies and folk rituals. Today, it has emerged as a popular modern sport, with festivals held worldwide. There are some 50 million participants around the world, and yet many people in the U.S. are still unaware of the sport, according to Aaron Soroka, chief operating officer of Great White North Dragon Boat.
“There’s still a huge chunk ofAmericathat is unaware and hasn’t had the opportunity to participate,” Soroka said. But the team at GWN is actively trying to change that, spreading the word about dragon boat racing, one of the fastest- growing water sports in the world.
GWN is the largest full-service production company for the sport of dragon boat racing in America, and it owns or helps produce over 40 events annually across North America. GWN provides event management services, team-building experiences, social media efforts, training camps, and equipment sales and leases. The organization has helped plan festivals of all sizes, from major events at places like Walt Disney World to smaller, regional competitions in locations like Windsor,N.J. When it comes to hosting a dragon boat event, “we can do everything from A to Z on the water,” said Soroka. “We can come in and execute.”
GWN’s main goal is boosting the presence of dragon boat racing in more markets across the U.S. It is very developed in Canada and on the East Coast of America, but penetration wanes the further West one ventures.
“A lot of our efforts are to build the sport in the Midwest and then move towards the West Coast,” Soroka said. Luckily, there appears to be a lot of interest and the potential for growth is extremely promising. GWN already added four to five new events so far this year, and the team is talking to more and more communities eager to get involved.
All events have a charitable tie-in where money is raised for a local cause, according to Soroka, an aspect that has grabbed the attention of charities, non-profits and corporations around the country looking to host an exciting competition in their community. In addition to the philanthropic side of dragon boat racing, communities are also interested in holding sports events that encourage mass participation and active lifestyles.
“Cities are interested in that level of community engagement and the opportunity to get people out on the water, instead of just looking at it, and actually having some fun,” Soroka said.
But isn’t there some kind of training involved in order to compete? Not at all.
One of the biggest selling points for the sport is that it does not require a lot of experience. Groups can practice for a couple hours beforehand and be out on the water in no time. This means there are a wide variety of teams that participate in dragon boat racing, from elite athletes who have been doing it for years, to novice paddlers just getting their feet wet. Individuals can gather friends, family and co-workers, build their own team and enter into the race.
“Any reason to bring 20 people together is a good enough reason to hop in a boat,” Soroka said. Teams begin in a time trial and are then split into divisions where they compete with others at their level, so everyone can be on an equal playing field, or lake.
For those who do not wish to participate, dragon boat events offer so much more than just the race, which is why they are actually referred to as festivals. The celebrations generally last one to two day and put a focus on the Chinese culture to highlight the history of the sport. There are dozens of food vendors, kids’ zones, beer gardens and live shows for people to enjoy, on top of watching the thrilling races on the water.
The GWN team continues to tout dragon boating across the nation, in the hopes that it will expand its reach even further. Through marketing its current events and promoting all the positive qualities of the sport, GWN believes people will realize just how much fun it can be.
“Once you get bitten by the dragon boat bug, you want to do it more than once a year,” Soroka said. It is this excitement and passion that fuels dragon boat racing in North America, helping it become the fastest-growing water sport in the country, and the world.