Besides hot weather and high levels of humidity, Macau summers are also defined by the Macao International Dragon Boat Races, a competition happening every summer in Macau since the 1970s. Usually, in June, the Nam Van Lakes area gets really busy with both athletes, teams, and visitors cheering for the different boats on the races. There are also several performances and speeches, with the results announced at the venue and also online. Every year, teams from all over the world flock to the city to participate in this amazing event. Colorful, noisy, and fast-paced, it’s an unmissable event if you’re into local traditions and exciting happenings.
Heading to one of these events is both cheerful and overwhelming. Besides the obvious noise from dozens of cheerful team members watching from up close, there’s the sound of the drums from the boats, as well as shouts from coaches and the audience. Outside, little stands set up by local companies sell products such as drinks and snacks. It’s a traditional event that’s worth witnessing due to its history, as well as the competition itself, filled with action and exhilarating moments.
Directly connected to the Dragon Boat Festival (Tung Ng)–an ancient festival that falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, commemorating the summer solstice and where the population follows rituals to clear illnesses usually connected to high temperatures. It originally commemorated the ancient patriotic Chinese poet Qu Yuan, born more than 2,000 years ago. He stood up against corruption by drowning himself using a dragon as a symbol to stand up for righteousness and ethics. The Dragon Boat Festival is thus not just about competition, but rather about the righteous history behind it.
There’s also a series of rituals associated with the races. Every year during the inauguration, athletes clean their boats and launch them in a special ceremony. They also paint the eyes of the dragons of their boats before the races kick-off. The five main colors of the festival are also related to history: these were the colors of the silk bits strapped on people’s doors to protect the children from the summer infirmities, which represent the five elements–earth, water, fire, air, and space.
Now taking place every year around the same time, the Dragon Boat Races only started happening more frequently–and on an international scale–from 1979 onwards. There were also some races before, but not steady. It was on that year that sports associations gathered to organize this competition with the support of local commercial entities.
Although the Dragon Boat Festival is especially important for locals and people across China, this race, in particular, is also acclaimed abroad, with teams coming from the fours corners of the world. It is one of the major international sporting events in the city and there are hundreds of teams registered for the races. The competitions are divided into small and standard dragon boat races, with a distance varying between 200 and 500 meters, respectively. Teams are divided into men, women, and mixed, universities and public entities categories. Some of the most popular teams include Galaxy, Friends of Macau Ka I Sport Club, and Monte Carlo Sports Club.
The spirit of teamwork is essential for dragon boat racing. Everyone in the team has to row the boat at the same time and follow the rhythm of the drummer. The drummer has the essential role of beating the drum to cheer up the rowers and guide the rowers to row at the same time. At the back of the boat is the steersman, who directs the boat. The race is all about teamwork and speed.
From Mondays to Fridays, 9:00am to 9:00pm, you can see people practicing for the race at Nam Van Lake. Some teams practice on Saturday mornings too, around 8:00am. These times are great to check out the preparations and training of these athletes before the races kick off. We love heading there after a busy day to check this out and you should too!
This article was originally written by Annie Anastacia in 2016 and updated by Leonor Sá Machado in June 2021.
This year’s races offer limited registration places for six categories, including Macao Small Dragon Boat Race (48 teams for Open Category, 18 teams for Women’s Category), Macao Public Entities Small Dragon Boat Race (12 teams), Macao University Student Small Dragon Boat Race (8 teams for Open Category) and Macao Standard Dragon Boat Race (30 teams for Open Category and 10 teams for Women’s Category).
To share the festive joy with the public, this year’s event will include not only a dragon boat-themed family carnival but also parade performances and booths for creative products and local cuisine. With the dragon boat races and the carnival, organizers believe that visitors will gain an authentic experience of Macau’s dragon boat festival celebrations; the event establishes itself as a unique brand of sports tourism in Macau and facilitates the diverse development of the city’s sports sector.
When: June 12–14, 2021
Where: Nam Van Nautical Centre, Lago Nam Van, Macau
How much: Free admission
For more information, check the event’s official website