The Rooster Meets the Dragon

24 July 2007
Will dragon boat racing replace cycling as the French national sport? With doping scandals continuing to plague the Tour de France prompting some television stations in Europe to drop live coverage of the legendary cycling spectacle, perhaps the French will need a new national pastime to fill their summers. Dragon boat racing is poised become a fast-growing sport among the French as recent activities in Rouen, Nantes and Annecy indicate.

Under its recently launched affiliates program, the IDBF, in the persons of Mike Haslam and John Handyside of the UK, were invited to France in the spring to give a helm and paddler training course at the Canoe Club Belbeuf near Rouen. Haslam was surprised to discover that most of the participants were teachers and students from the local colleges, keen to try out the sport. "We had two full boats worth of paddlers, some of whom were good and the people trying out for helms were very good," said Haslam. After a three hour session covering theory, history of the sport, safety procedures, technique, etc., based on the IDBF awards scheme, the aspiring dragon boaters then pushed off for a water training session on the swiftly flowing river.

The visit was arranged through Guillame Bestaux, the Deputy Mayor of Rouen who is in charge of youth development and sport, in preparation for the Rouen Dragon Boat Festival to be held on 15 & 16 September. Rouen wants to strengthen its ties with partner city Ningbo, China and the dragon boat festival presents a way to do this through a cultural and sporting event.

Rouen athletes take a bateau dragon paddling lesson from Mike Haslam.
Rouen athletes take a bateau dragon
paddling lesson from Mike Haslam.
The festival will be run in traditional-style boats from China which, according to Haslam, are a bit longer and heavier than the IDBF racing standard boats used in official championships. The race on the Seine, through the center of Rouen, will be run in accordance to IDBF rules and is open to all teams. "It would be good to get a few crews who aren’t going to Sydney to support this festival," says Haslam.

The festival is being organized by the City of Rouen, the French Association for the Advancement of Dragon Boat Sport, The Norman Canoe Club, Canoe Club Belbeuf and the Euro-Chinese Association for Sport and Culture. Click here for more information on the festival.

Dragon Boat Racing in Nantes.
Racing in Nantes.
This is not the only French dragon boat action this summer whereby dragon boating is working together with canoe clubs to organize festival racing. In May, the Nantes Atlantique Canoe Kayak Club (NACK) ran a festival race in Nantes together with the EDBF. In spite of winds exceeding 100km per hour that weekend, local teams racing Saturday had an excellent day of racing under the guidance of Gregoire Donaint according to Claude Dorhlac, president of the French Dragon Boat Association. The festival will be held for the third time in May 2008.

Additionally, the Kayak Club of Annecy, near the border with Switzerland, have recently joined the French Dragon Boat Association in order that their members who dragon boat can participate in EDBF and IDBF dragon boat races. So before long, "Parlez vous dragon boat?" will be met with an enthusiastic "Oui!"


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