Paddles up! Ottawa’s Dragon Boat Festival is back

June 21, 2022 | Sports, Summer, Wellness

Get ready paddlers, the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival is happening June 24-26th!

This weekend, you can watch exciting races and enjoy top-notch concerts at the Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival for free! The festival takes place just south of downtown Ottawa at beautiful Mooney’s Bay Park, with its sandy beach and large children’s playground. Cheer on teams of 20 paddlers, each guided by a drummer and a steersperson, as they power large, colourful boats!

200 teams from all over will gather at Mooney’s Bay to compete this coming weekend. The festival draws in 75,000 visitors and is North America’s largest dragon boating festival. The four-day celebration offers free admission to concerts, amusement attractions, sports demonstrations, a variety of artisans, exhibitors, delicious culinary treats, a children’s area, and non-stop racing.

Dragon boat racing is a time-honoured tradition that goes back 2,400 years. Its origins go back to southern China, where racing was to summon essential rains for bountiful crops to avert misfortune and ensure prosperity. The first participants held their celebration on the fifth day of the lunar month of the Chinese calendar. The object of their worship was the dragon.

This day is also known as Poet’s Day, and commemorates the death of poet and former Minister of State Qu Yuan. The story holds that the minister was removed from his position due to protesting the corrupt government. He then wandered the countryside and disappeared into the river. Local fishermen realized Qu’s fate and raced out in their boats to save him while beating their drums to keep the fish away. The scene of the fishermen racing out to save Qu Yuan is re-enacted every year in the form of dragon boat races.

Present-day Dragon Boat Racing

Today dragon boat racing has become a popular and competitive sport, with paddles and boats all over the globe. It is a challenging, fun, team-based activity. This weekend Ottawa will see 5000 paddlers competing in races every 10 minutes. Each dragon boat is a slim 44-foot racer with a dragon’s head at the bow and a tail at the stern. Each boat holds 22 athletes comprising 20 paddlers, 1 drummer, and 1 steersperson.

Paddlers: Proper Warm-up and Cool Down

Fun aside, dragon boat racing is hard work! An all-out, coordinated effort, is given by paddlers in each 500m race. In most festivals, teams will compete in one race and then sit for a while before racing again. This makes it extra important to warm-up properly prior to each race. Warm-ups should include whole body stretching and range of motion exercises to ensure joints, the spine, and muscles are ready for action. Stretches before the race should be dynamic stretches, rather than static or stretches held in one position for a longer period of time. After each race, cool down and make sure to stretch out the muscles you used to ensure they are ready for the next round.

Paddlers: Hydration

Hydration is the key to lasting a hot day with multiple races paddling, but a cooler day doesn’t make hydration any less important. Bring lots of water, and electrolytes (like Nuun), to your event, and be sure to take in liquids throughout the day. Recommended daily water intake is 2-3L, however, expect to increase intake on race days.

Paddlers: Nutrition

Fuel for the body in the form of healthy snacks are key to ensuring energy levels stay high and allow paddlers to perform at the best of their abilities. Snacks like nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit are easy and great ways to fuel the body for the race ahead. Make sure to eat and give yourself time before the race starts. It will be hard to paddle at top speed on a full stomach.

Paddlers: Sunscreen

Summer weather on open water is a recipe for potential sunburn. Sunscreen, sun cover, and sunglasses are all key in protecting your skin and eyes from UV exposure. Not all sunscreens are created equal. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Look for “water-resistant” or “sport” on the sunscreen label. “Water-resistant” or “sport” sunscreens are formulated to stay on better if you are in the water or sweating. These sunscreen products still need reapplication after you get out of the water or after sweating heavily.

Paddlers: Take Care of Your Body

Paddling requires coordination across the entire body and relies on the rotation of the spine. Paddlers can ensure they are in top shape for Dragon Boat season with regular visits to their chiropractor , physiotherapist, and/or massage therapist leading up to the racing season. If you sustain an injury, be sure to follow up with a member of your health care team. To book your appointment with one of our chiropractors, physiotherapists, or massage therapists, call 613.860.8600 for our Byward location, and 613.237.9000 for our Glebe location. Online bookings can also be made at


If you are attending this weekend’s festivities solely as a spectator, be sure to prep accordingly with respect to hydration and sun protection. Watching the races seated in the shade is recommended. Be sure to get up and move and eat at regular intervals to keep up your cheering energy throughout the day. Last of all, have fun and enjoy the festival!

The Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival marks the arrival of summer in the city and is a great way to spend time with family, friends, and colleagues. These past two years have been isolating and challenging for all of us. As restrictions continue to lift, seize the opportunity to safely connect with others again outdoors in social situations and make plans for some fun at Mooney’s Bay this weekend!