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Over the past 40 years, the sport of dragon boat racing has grown beyond the Dragon Boat Festival’s official holiday celebration on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month every year. Today, there’s a full summer race schedule spanning from February through October in cities across the United States.
The celebrations incorporate activities both on land and on the water. Many of the largest celebrations begin with traditional opening ceremonies that awaken the dragons and bless the racing to come. From there, paddlers take to their boats and spectators crowd the waterfront amidst a carnival of cultural activities and food.
A day at a dragon boat celebration combines culture, folklore and fierce athletic competition. Powered by 20 paddlers and a drummer’s rhythmic beat, dragon boat teams compete with the same energy as the townspeople who fought to save Qu Yuan in the Miluo River so many years ago. Teams span age groups, affiliations and ability levels in this inclusive sport.
In the United States, the largest dragon boat festivals are held in cities like San Francisco and New York, which have historically had the country’s largest Chinese populations, though races now exist almost everywhere there’s a waterway large enough to host them.
The most competitive racing classes ultimately send teams to the World Dragon Boat Racing Championships and the World Club Crew Championships, both sponsored by the International Dragon Boat Federation. These worldwide competitions for national and club teams have been held in cities around the world like Hong Kong, Auckland, Vancouver and Cape Town.
Here’s a look at six of the most notable American dragon boat festivals for you to keep in mind as you firm up your summer plans.
Portland Rose Festival Dragon Boat Race
Established in 1989, the Portland Rose Festival Dragon Boat Race is an annual cultural event hosted by the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association. The event features as many as 96 dragon boat teams from all over the world who race in Taiwan-style dragon boats.
Tom McCall Waterfront Park
September 9-10, 2017
Online at rosefestival.org
Boston Dragon Boat Festival
Established in 1979, the Boston Dragon Boat Festival is the first and oldest such festival in North America. It has grown from a small neighborhood event to the largest Chinese American cultural event in New England, drawing more than 20,000 participants and spectators annually.
Charles River near Weeks Footbridge
June 10-11, 2017
Online at bostondragonboat.org
Colorado Dragon Boat Festival
Established in 2001, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival now attracts more than 125,000 guests to its annual two day event. The races are a popular and free family summertime event that focus on cultural education, leadership development and athletic competition.
Sloan’s Lake Park
July 29-30, 2017
Online at cdbf.org
Kansas City International Dragon Boat Festival
The Kansas City International Dragon Boat Festival represents cooperation, friendship and trade between Kansas City, Mexico and China. The festival’s dragon boats are gifts from China to “The Society for Friendship with China” of Kansas City and were the first shipment opening a trade route from Shanghai, China, to Lazaros Cardenas, Mexico, to Kansas City, Missouri.
June 10, 2017
Online at The Society for Friendship with China
The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York
Established in 1990, the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York provides audiences with traditional Chinese foods and performances, and hosts over 120 dragon boat teams from across North America, making it one of the largest dragon boat festivals in the United States.
Flushing Meadows Park
August 12-13, 2017
Online at hkdbf-ny.org
San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival
Established in 1996, the San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival hosts more than 120 teams from around the world and has grown to include cultural activities, creative arts, exhibits, live performances and immersive experiences for both kids and adults in a family-friendly space.
September 23-24, 2017
Online at sfdragonboat.com
Your turn! Have you made it out to a dragon boat race? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!