Visit our new Dragon Boat Festival website! Volunteer, become a Sponsor or Vendor, or simply read up about the races and festival activities. We hope to see you at the 13th Annual Cumberland River Dragon Boat Festival on Sept. 7th!

Thank you to our paddlers, sponsors, volunteers, and spectators for making 2018 the most successful Cumberland River Dragon Boat Festival year ever!

Orangetheory Fitness


Gresham, Smith and Partners

Whole Foods Franklin


Stay tuned for updates on Dragon Boat 2019!


According to legend, Dragon Boat racing originated in China more than 2,300 years ago. Chinese history describes the fourth century B.C. as the Warring States period; a time of shifting alliances and treachery.

The patriot and poet Qu Yuan championed political reform and truth as essential to a healthy state. The King, who had fallen under the influence of corrupt ministers, banished his most loyal counselor, Qu Yuan, from the kingdom.

Left to wander the countryside, Qu Yuan composed some of China’s greatest poetry expressing his fervent love and loyalty for his country, and his deep concern for its future. Upon learning of his kingdom’s devastation at the hands of a rival kingdom in 277 B.C., Qu Yuan threw himself into the Mei Lo River.

The people loved Qu Yuan. They raced out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river in a vain attempt to save him. They beat on drums and splashed their oars in the water, trying to keep the fish from his body and ward off evil spirits. To honor his soul and ensure it didn’t go hungry, they scattered rice into the water.

Today, dragon boat races are primarily a form of amusement and fun, while also highlighting the history and culture of this colorful event. Every year, people come together to pay tribute to this fallen statesman by paddling to the beat of their own drum.

The traditional dotting of the Dragon’s eye before dragon boat racing begins awakens the dragon and unleashes its fire, giving boats and their crews the strength of the dragon.

  • Outside hip forward
  • Inside hip back
  • Outside leg extended along the gunwale (inside top rail of the boat)
  • Inside foot under the seat or braced effectively and comfortably
  • Seven Steps of the Dragon Boat Paddling Technique
    • Rotation
    • Reach Extension
    • Top Arm Drive (stab the water)
    • Catch-powerfully drive the paddle into the water at approx. a 45 degree angle, burying the entire blade into the water-your hand should get wet.
    • Pull water with the entire blade until you get to just behind your knee
    • Exit -get that paddle straight up and out of the water quickly, no further back than your hip
    • Recovery -snap the paddle back into the paddles up position for the next catch
  • Paddles Up: Be ready to paddle. All paddlers with paddles above the water (3-6 inches from the surface) ready to enter the water.
  • Take it Away: Begin paddling.
  • Let it Run: Stop paddling and let the boat glide.
  • Hold the Boat or Stop the Boat: Place paddles in the water, with paddle pointed straight down, blade submerged. It will bring the boat to a stop. If you hear the command, “Hold hard,” quickly put your paddle straight down and then back it up one stroke.
  • Back it Down: Paddle backwards.
  • Draw (left or right side): Initiates a turn using draw strokes by the designated paddlers. Can also be used to get the boat closer to something, a dock, for example.
  • Stabilize the boat: Place your paddle blade on top of the water and hold it there. This stabilizes the boat. It is needed when anyone stands up in the boat to change position, etc.

Note: Your coach/steerer will brief you about these commands before your practice. In the boat, when the coach is talking, please continue to paddle and listen. Never stop paddling unless your coach says, “Let it run.”


Dragon Boat paddling is a great sport for beginners and seasoned athletes. There are some things to consider before picking up a paddle. While an easy sport to learn in your practice session, dragon boating is also strenuous and can impact your body if you aren’t used to anaerobic exercise. Participating in the sport engages nearly every muscle group, and particularly the core.

  • We highly recommended you eat and sufficiently hydrate your body prior to coming to paddle in the dragon boat for practice and race day. To conserve water and energy we encourage everyone to bring water bottles that can be refilled on site at the Nashville Metro Water truck (sourced from the Cumberland River).
  • For any reason, if you must stop paddling, please do. Safety is most important in a dragon boat.
  • In the boat, your hand will likely slip up and down the shaft of the paddle. You may consider bringing gloves.
  • You’ll sit on wooden seats. You may bring a gardener’s pad or wear padded shorts.
  • Paddlers and drummers will learn the technique, start sequence and cadence at practice. This is one of the reasons it is important to attend your one-hour practice session.

Conduct in the Boat: There should be no/minimal talking once your team is in the boat.  The drummer and steersperson must be able to communicate with the team and each other at all times, and all team members need to be able to hear the commands. Paddles straight up in the air if you need to draw attention to yourselves in case of emergency.

Buddy System: Make certain that each of your team members knows who is sitting beside them in case the boat swamps/capsizes, which is highly unlikely.  Teammates will be responsible for each other’s safety until rescue arrives. STAY WITH THE BOAT!

Life Jackets: Everyone must wear a life jacket during practice and on Race Day.

Drummer: The drummer should attend practice, if possible. He or she will assist in setting the timing for the team and can be an excellent source of motivation and inspiration during practices and on Race Day.


While we hope to have a dragon boat club in Nashville next year, there are currently no consistent or official dragon boat practice opportunities in Nashville. However, stand up paddle boarding (SUP) and other types of paddling will help you get in shape for the race! In years past, local SUP outfitters have offered training sessions for dragon boat teams – a dragon boat paddling stroke can even be taught on a stand up paddle board! If you and your team are looking for training opportunities, we suggest contacting the following local paddle sport companies:

Nashville Paddle Co.

Paddle Up TN


The dragon boat race course is a 250-meter run roughly between the Shelby Street walking bridge and the Woodland Street bridge.

Your team will be outfitted with paddles, personal flotation devices and, of course, a Dragon Boat.

You’ll be racing in a four-boat heat in river water with the current.

The racecourse is a straight, marked course.

Each team will have a designated area. Water will be provided and teams may purchase food and drinks from festival vendors.

No alcohol is permitted in the team staging area.

As a safety precaution, paddlers are not allowed to drink beer or consume other alcoholic beverages until their participation in the races is completed.

There are plenty of portable toilet facilities. We plan on providing enough TP to last through the event, but experienced paddlers know to BYOTP!

Don’t forget to bring waterproof sunscreen(reapply it every two hours), hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing such as a long sleeve shirt.

The public will have access to your personal belongings, so please don’t leave valuables unprotected. You are responsible for your team’s belongings so please plan accordingly.

*Please note: For safety reasons, all teams will be assigned a professional steersperson at no additional charge.

Steering the dragon boat requires more skill than any other position.

He or she will make sure your boat is on point at the starting line, that the boat is properly balanced, and knows how to maintain a safe distance from other boats and obstructions on the water during the race.