As director for the Chinese Cultural Centre in the 1970s, Larry Chu searched for a way to represent the Chinese community at Expo ’86 and the Vancouver Centennial.
He travelled to Hong Kong to watch the local and international dragon boat races and found his answer in the unique cultural celebration.
The festival is held to celebrate Qu Yuan, a poet who committed suicide in 278 BCE in the Miluo River as a form of protest against the Chinese government. Each year the villagers would paddle into the middle of the Miluo River beating drums and splashing the water to protect his spirit from evil.
With the help of Larry Chu and his associates, Rick Lee and Agnes Mui, Hong Kong sponsored a dragon boating exhibition featuring traditional Chinese transportation at Expo ‘86. The six teak wood boats were built following traditional guidelines in Hong Kong and shipped to Vancouver in 40 ft. containers. Organized by the Chinese Cultural Centre, the summer of ’86 marked the first authentic dragon boating festival in North America.
“Canoeing is universal. I wanted to try and do something to help the Chinese community in Strathcona get access to water. Dragon boating is access to water for anybody, at recreational and competitive levels,” explains Chu passionately.
Chu knew dragon boating would be a success in Vancouver, and he is proud that people of all ages can enjoy a modern day sport with a cultural background where everyone can go and participate.
“There is an exotic cultural aspect to it, and it is rooted in history,” he says.
For Amy Amantea, the inclusivity and accessibility of dragon boating inspired her to join a team. Amantea, who has been visually impaired for the last five years, was connected with BC Blind Sports and the Vision Impossible team.
“Vision Impossible accepts everybody, from brand new paddlers to paddlers in their 70s. It is a low-cost way to participate. Everybody in the boat is at different levels and comes from different backgrounds,” says Amantea.
She explains the training for her team differs slightly. The coach sits at the front of the boat and comes up to you, holds the paddle and helps you through the movements. However, during the race there is little difference between the paddlers.
“You are totally focused on each stroke. Even for sighted paddlers, there is no time to figure out where you are compared to other teams. You keep your head faced forward,” says Amantea.
“Being part of Vision Impossible never makes you feel like you are less than any other paddler. You are doing a sport that any able-bodied person can do. Dragon boating is so social, it gives people an outlet,” exclaims Amantea.
Larry’s Top 3 Takeaways from Dragon Boating
Team work: “You learn to cooperate and work together to move the boat.”
Inclusivity: “Almost everybody is an amateur, it is virtually accessible to anyone.”
Multiculturalism: “It celebrates a traditional Chinese festival, in a way everyone can enjoy.”
Amy’s Top 3 Takeaways from Dragon Boating
Team work: “If you can breathe after you passed the finish line, you didn’t paddle hard enough!”
Devotion: “You put into it what you get out of it. If you want a good sweat, you can get that.”
Camaraderie: “It gives you the opportunity to network, to become exposed to new resources and contacts.”