The 18th Annual Kaiser Permanente San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival

Buoyed by record-breaking crowds every year and ever-increasing corporate support, this year’s 18th Annual Kaiser Permanente San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival (www.sfdragonboat.com) on Saturday & Sunday, September 14 & 15 takes place in the midst of an unprecedented focus on San Francisco Bay. Occurring during the final week of America’s Cup sail boat racing and in the shadow of the newly completed Bay Bridge eastern span, this year’s Festival, also caps a successful fundraising effort including new major sponsorship from Raytheon Corporation (www.raytheon.com).

“This Festival is the largest family friendly event in Northern California,” said Linda Cheu, Festival Director of the California Dragon Boat Association that sponsors the event. “Raytheon’s support this year is a perfect compliment to an event so focused on youth participation, especially with Raytheon’s commitment to math and science education.”

Raytheon will be sponsoring the Raytheon Math Moves U area within Dragon Land, the children’s pavilion at the Festival, featuring a series of interactive math-oriented activities for kids.

“Raytheon is supporting this year’s festival to excite San Francisco area youth about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers,” said Christine Shimizu, Vice President of Information Technology for Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services business. “We are keenly aware that investing in math and science education is critically important for a strong economy.”

Raytheon Company, with 2012 sales of $24 billion and 68,000 employees worldwide, is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, security and civil markets throughout the world. With a history of innovation spanning 91 years, Raytheon provides state-of-the-art electronics, mission systems integration and other capabilities in the areas of sensing; effects; and command, control, communications and intelligence systems; as well as a broad range of mission support services. Raytheon is headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts.

This year’s Festival features several an unprecedented number of novice teams, representing a wide range of corporations such as Google, Wells Fargo, KPMG, AT&T, and PG&E, hospitals such as Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation, San Francisco General, St. Mary’s Medical Center, and Chinese Hospital, and an array of community serving organizations including schools, labor unions, and other non-profits. There will also be dozens of visiting teams from around the United States and Canada.

San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee will help kick-off the event on Saturday as he visits the teams, including one, “the Golden Serpents,” representing City Hall and ChinaSF, the Mayor’s China business 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. The festival provides an exciting array of activities off the water as well, from food trucks to entertainment to children’s activities and is a very family friendly event.

Cheu notes that dragon boating has continued to grow in popularity throughout the country – and world — citing as evidence the growing number of 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 paddler. “It’s going to be another great weekend of good, hard racing, excellent entertainment and food, and great times on and off the water!”

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.

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 18 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 discovered 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.”

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