The largest dragon boat festival outside of Asia brings together int’l athletes
Treasure Island, San Francisco , Saturday & Sunday, September 15 & 16
Racing: 8am – 5pm; Festival: 10am – 5pm
Call it the “Water Dragon Olympics”: the 17th Annual Kaiser Permanente San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival (www.sfdragonboat.com) Saturday & Sunday, September 15 & 16, 2012 on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. A fitting counterpart to the recent London Olympics, for the first time, this year’s Festival features several new international teams: paddlers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and, of course, the United States. San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee will help kick-off the event on Saturday as he visits the teams, including one from City Hall’s own ChinaSF business development initiative. Both days of the Festival feature racing from 8am – 5pm, and an on-land Festival of Dragon Boat cultural and related activities from 10am – 5pm. Entrance to the Festival is free and open to the public, as is viewing of the races.
“With a Chinese American Mayor in San Francisco, we’re finding interest in the sport at an all time high and continuing to grow,” said Linda Cheu, Festival Director of the California Dragon Boat Association that sponsors the event. “It is a fitting sport for the Year of the Water Dragon.”
Cheu notes that dragon boating has continued to grow in popularity throughout the country – and world — citing as evidence this year’s unprecedented international competitors.
“The California Dragon Boat Association again expects record attendance in all divisions this year,” said Dave Chen, President of the California Dragon Boat Association and also a longtime dragon boat crewmember. “It’s going to be another great weekend of good, hard racing, excellent entertainment and food, and great times on and off the water!” The festival provides an exciting array of activities off the water as well, from food trucks to entertainment to children’s activities.
In 1996 a handful of paddlers came together with the vision to build an organization to foster the growth and development of dragon boating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Each had little experience in starting up a non-profit organization most were relatively new to the sport themselves. With only commitment and their faith in dragon boating becoming a great activity for the community they moved forward to promote a sport people knew little about in an area already saturated with team sports.
“Although great strides have been made, the dragon boat community in the Bay Area is still in its infancy,” “We are always looking for motivated people to continue the growth of the sport especially on behalf of youth interested in the sport.”
So, what exactly is Dragon Boating?
For those unfamiliar with the sport, dragon boating simply put, is a boat of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a steers person paddling to cross the finish faster than their competition. It’s a team sport in its purest form that encompasses the elements of power, speed, synchronization and endurance.
With its beginnings in Southern China, dragon boating today is the fastest growing international team water sport. Each year, race festivals are held around the world in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States, one of the largest festivals in the North America is held right here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The appeal to dragon boating is mainly contributed to the sport’s ability to accommodate a wide spectrum of skill levels ranging from novice to competitive,” Chen explains. “At the novice and recreational level, teams often form as a means of social outlet, team building and an alternative means of exercise. For the spectator, the true display of the sport’s intensity and skill is witnessed in the competitive ranks.”
Dragon boat racing is one of the earliest known forms of aquatic competition and is celebrated at festivals and races throughout the world. This mythical celebration is a symbol of Chinese culture and spirit and is one of the three largest festivals in that country, with its roots going back over 2,000 years.
Legend has it that Qu Yuan, a scholar and advisor to the emperor of the Chu Kingdom, jumped into the Mei Lo (Mi Luo) River in despair and protest against government corruption. Local fishermen raced out in their boats to save him. They beat drums and pounded their paddles on the river’s waters and threw rice dumplings wrapped in silk into the river to distract the water dragons and keep them from eating from Qu Yuan’s body. Dragon boating evolved from the re-enactment of this legend at annual festivals.
After 16 years, the California Dragon Boat Association is now the largest dragon boating organization in the Bay Area and organizes one of the largest competitive dragon boat festivals in the United States. In addition, the Association oversees the largest high school and college dragon boat program in the nation.
“No one who has discovers dragon boating – either on the water or as an on land volunteer leaves unchanged,” says Cheu. “Only recently are people outside of Asia beginning to see and experience the magic team and community building aspects of this ancient sport.”