Event History

About Stanley Dragon Boat Racing

updated 2/5/2003

A town of history

Only 20 years ago Stanley (Chek Chue) was simply a small fishing village on the south side of Hong Kong Island. As most of the local Chinese relied on the sea for their livelihood it was only natural that dragon boat racing became a very popular way to celebrate the Tuen Ng Festival.

Stanley itself had long been an important settlement for fisher folk. But as far back as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the east and the west seemed to mix well here. (According to the 1841Government Gazette No. 2, Chek Chu was the capital of the Island, with a population of 2,000).

East meets West

Dragon boat racing was a favourite pastime, however, in the late 60s the local races started to attract the interest of several expats living in the Stanley area. By the early 70s the expats were racing against the local Chinese. To make the races fairer for all and because the Chinese teams dominated the race, around 1975 the organizers divided the races to allow the expats to compete in a new category of their own. This was followed by the introduction of a Ladies' Competition towards the end of the 70s. Because body weight was an important factor in the speed with which the boats could be moved, it became mandatory for expat men's teams to compete with two paddlers fewer than normal (originally the crew would be 24, including steerer and drummer). However, in the mid 90s the organisers standardised the crew in all categories to 22 bring the races in line with the world-racing scene. (On one occasion so far, the Expat and Chinese Men's competition in the Plates in '97 were combined to tighten the schedule.) The diverse nationalities of Expatriate Men's Teams remain a feature of the Stanley Regatta.

 

The Stanley Dragon Boat Regatta is traditionally held on Tuen Ng Festival Day (Duen Wu Jie in Mandarin Chinese) following the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

The race rules are now run to international standards with boats being "medium size" and wooden, carrying a crew of 22, including drummer and steersman.

 

Global impact

The race was originally organized by local residents who made up the Stanley Residents Association, but it was soon obvious than a more dedicated team was needed. To handle the sheer size of the competition and number of teams eager to compete, the Stanley Dragon Boat Association was formed as an offshoot to coordinate the annual Dragon Boat Races.

Over the past decade, the Race Day has become increasingly popular and more "international", with peoples of varying nationalities joining the organizing committee or acting as officials. It has also been an accepted practice that the race has been organised on a low-budget-positive-return principle, so most of the work is done by volunteers, such as members of The Windsurfing Association and Royal HK Yacht Club with HK Telecom supplying free use of speed boats and communication equipment. The HK Sea School with the help of the Navy from HMS Tamar (until 1996) laid out the racecourse. And until 1994 the resident army regiment of Stanley Fort set up the shore facilities. [See picture below]

The old photo shows that in the early days the drummer's seat was set at the middle row [the same as the "big dragon boats"]. It was then changed to the front in the mid 90s to be in line with the trend across the rest of the world.

The early races were held at Stanley Bay (facing Tin Hau Temple and the present Murray House). Because of the convenient location, it created a strong community festival atmosphere, however in the last few years, taking into consideration the size of the waves in early June and inadequate public facilities, the race has been run from Stanley Main Beach over the last few years.

Despite being held at the height of Typhoon season, the races have never needed to be cancelled or postponed. In fact, one historic year the race day was actually between two number 8 signals!! Over the years, Race Day has evolved into an amazing festival with plenty of competitors and spectators enjoying themselves in a wonderful party atmosphere.

The races can also claim some rather unusual 'firsts' and 'records' during its long history: For instance, the navy team from HMS Tamar holds the record for the boat that sunk the most during one competition; and the most spectacular finish was in 1976 when the Grenadier Guards from Stanley Fort crossed the finishing line at full speed to be confronted by an old lady slowly rowing her sampan. The guards had nowhere to go and proceeded to hit the sampan amidships and cut it in half.

The Stanley event holds the record for the earliest history of expat participation, as well as always having the highest competitor turnout, the highest company team turnout and the highest expat turnout. In 1996 and 2001, the Stanley Dragon Boat Races had a record turnout of 130 and 143 teams respectively.

Now the Event has earned a worldwide reputation. In 2001 not only was the event featured as the cover story in a local magazine the HK and Kowloon Town Crier, it was widely covered by CNN of the US, the BBC of Britain, as well as stations from Japan and Spain. Since 2002 it has been included in the International Calendar of events of the International Dragon Boat Federation.

Reaching the world

The Associations official race home page (www.angelfire.com/on/dragonboat) was launched in March 1999 with great success. In the same year, RTHK (www.rthk.org.hk) put out a live broadcast of the event on Radio 3 through their web page. Since 2000, digital cameras have been set up for on-line live global TV web casts. These break new ground for the history of dragon boating. In 2001 after seeing a hit count of 20,000 over two years, commercial sponsorship was obtained for free web hosting in a permanent new site (www.dragonboat.org.hk).

The Stanley Dragon Boat Races have become a key hyperlink for many large dragon boat sites in other countries. The Taiwanese Government's heritage promotion sites have links to this site. In June 2001 the site was picked by a Chinese search engine (www.yam.com) as one of the top resource sites of the month.

Serving the Community

The boats being used for both racing and practice were purchased by the Stanley Residents Association with contributions from some teams. Revenue raised from the entry fees and donations are used to cover all the expenses of running the Regatta, ordering new boats and maintenance with the surplus used to subsidizecommunity service and promoting sports and recreation activities in and around Stanley. For many years, most youth and voluntary agencies in the Chek Chu community enjoy the privilege of having their entry and practice fee waived. In 2001, ten new wooden boats from were ordered from Mainland China, expanding the fleet to 22.

To promote dragon boating is itself is a wonderful link to the culture of the region, but to find that across the world it has become such a popular sport is overwhelming. The efforts of the Association pay off in increased tourism, increased interest in dragon boating as a sports and cultural exchanges, which enhance this annual event so closely linked to the Tuen Ng Festival.

Since the launch of the Internet project, our "On-line Research Room" has produced a new niche for the Association, encouraging the Association to look for new projects, such as to promote heritage awareness, cultural tourism, and a feeling for our roots in our community. This kind of civic education we feel is very much needed in modern life. 

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