Awakening the New Island Dragon

Henley Dragons, from the Eyot Centre in Henley, celebrated their new Dragon Boat by hosting a ‘Naming of the Boat’ ceremony on Thursday evening, by the River Thames.

Sponsored by Hobbs of Henley, this ceremony, which is also called ‘Awakening the Dragon or ‘Eye Dotting’, is practiced in many Dragon Boat events throughout the world, which traditionally involves a Taoist priest dotting the protruding eyes of the dragon that is carved on the boats, thus ending its sleep. The ceremony, in respect to Chinese custom, will open the dragon’s eyes, ward off evil spirits and prepare the river for voyage.  The ceremony not only blesses and cleanses the area  but also the spectators and paddlers.  It is considered very bad luck to paddle or race in a dragon boat that has not been properly awakened or has its eyes closed.

As part of this big celebration, spectators enjoyed a traditional Chinese lion dance as part of the opening ceremony. The lion dance was performed by a team from the Eagle Claw Martial Arts School, based in Maidenhead. Led by Julian Dale, the team performed the traditional “Dim Jing” which is the blessing for the new dragon boat, where the lions dance to pay their respects to the dragon by performing around the boat, as well as interacting with the spectators who took great delight in bowing and patting the heads of the lions.

The Deputy Mayor of Henley, Councillor Kellie Hinton was invited to perform the ‘dotting of the eyes’, supported by Cat Cassell, Captain of the Henley Dragons and two young paddlers, Evie Hadfield and Riley Salter. The Deputy Mayor said, “This truly is a celebration and something really special where the community has come together to fundraise. This boat is a culmination of all their efforts.”

Once the dragon was ‘awoken’, the paddlers took their new boat for a trip to complete the ceremony. The boat is called “Dao Loong” which means “Island dragon”.

This new boat was purchased following numerous fundraising events by the Henley Dragons and now, with two boats, enables 20 paddlers to take to the water. Cat Cassell, said, “We are a youth centre, funded by the Thameside Trustees,  and with this new boat, want to encourage young people to get involved and try this sport.” All ages are welcome from 12 years and upwards. The club trains on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings and will be undertaking some taster sessions in the future to encourage people to try this sport.”  You can find out more at


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