Racing Dragons

dragon boat race, steersman in back and drummer in front

dragon boat race, steersman in back and drummer in front

I believe in dragons.   As the waves washed up on the sandy shores on a beautiful summer day, I watched dragons racing over the water of a lake.  They were racing in the 1st Annual Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival on July 28th, on Lake Arlington, in Arlington Heights.  The races were held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. lasting 30-40 minutes in length in a cordoned off area of the lake.

dragon's head

dragon’s head

A loud drum beat set the pace for the paddlers as they raced the dragon boats across the lake.  Three boats competed in each race with 20 paddlers, two paddlers per bench, a drummer and a steersperson working the rudder per boat.  A boat can hold up to 26 people so there is room for 4 additional paddlers for replacements.

Dragon boat racing is a competitive paddling sport that was begun over 2,000 years ago in China.

“Dragon boats are the basis of the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing an amateur water sport which has its roots in an ancient folk ritual of contending villagers held over the past 2,000 years throughout southern China. While ‘competition’ has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, dragon boat racing has emerged in modern times as an international sport, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976. But the history of dragon boats in competition reaches as far back as the same era as the original games of Olympia in ancient Greece. Both dragon boat racing and the ancient Olympiad included aspects of religious observances and community celebrations along with competition.”  Wikipedia

This 2,000 years old sport is gaining in popularity in North America.  Great White North (GWN), based in Ontario, Canada, is the one that produced this first race event in Chicago.  GWN produces 40 dragon boat racing events a year.  There other upcoming dragon boat festivals if you missed this one, and here is a link:   Dragon Boat Festival Schedule  There are lots of dragon boat associations and organizations in the US and Canada that host racing festivals for charity like the American Dragon Boat Association or GWN throughout the year.  You can search on the Internet for a festival or organization in your area in North America or even around the globe.

teams wait behind the mesh fence for their turn to race

teams wait behind the mesh fence for their turn to race

I’m sorry I missed the sign up date, because I would have liked to join a team to paddle on one of the boats.  There are training camps and coordinated places to train in advance of the events for those new to the sport.  Yes, strong arms are needed for the sport.  Those boats move fast over the water during the race with paddler pulling hard in unison for 30-40 minutes during a racing heat.  The winning teams received trophies for their victories.  It is intense paddling for a short period of time per race.

award trophys for race winners

award trophys for race winners

a tent at the festival

a tent at the festival

It was a festival, with food tents and sports vendors on an area of a park jutting out into the lake by a boat lunch.   Attendance at the festival was free, and people competing on the teams pay a registration fee.  The dragon boat races are usually held to raise awareness and funds to benefit a charity.  SALUTE, INC., a non-profit organization that provides financial support and lots of activities for military men and women, was the charity selected for this particular dragon boat festival.

winner of the race

winner of the race

second boat back

second boat back

last boat back

last boat back

At the end of the races, the paddlers had sore arms and happy hearts.  I’ll be waiting for the dragons to return next year.

Taiko Dragon Boat Music

7 responses to “Racing Dragons

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