Dragon boating goes back over 2000 years in Ancient China.  According to an article in The Smithsonian, many legends combined over the years to evolve into what is often repeated today, that the poet Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River in the Hunan Province after being exiled by the emperor for perceived disloyalty. 

For many years after this event, people threw rice in the river to feed his spirit, but the water dragons ate the rice first.  Dragons by then were viewed as the controllers of the waters, and in some fashion, then, dragon boat racing then became a way to celebrate Qu Yuan’s life.

Or, there may be other interpretations.  For more details and interesting history about the origins dragon boat history, check out The Smithsonian article here

According to the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) each year on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (which is usually June) in China paddlers in dragon boats reenact this event.  From here, dragon boat racing began to expand beyond the borders of China.

Today, dragon boating is a modern sport that is practiced all over the world. The IDBF website explains that Hong Kong held the first International Dragon Boat Festival in 1976, which is considered the start of the “modern era” of dragon boating. The IDBF formed in 1991 and now oversees the sport in over 60 countries.

The Pan American Dragon Boat Federation (PADBF) oversees the western hemisphere, the United States Dragon Boat Federation (USDBF) is the governing body for the US, and locally the Pacific Dragon Boat Association (PacDBA) oversees the western states.