This is not the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in celebration of Qu Yuan’s death. Zongzi (Rice Dumplings in Bamboo Leaves) is not on the menu, although I wouldn’t mind eating the traditional meal for this festival. My guess is beer, brats and other western style outdoor foods will be on the menu at the Kenosha Dragonboat Festival. Chinese Dragon Boat Racing dates back more than 2000 years in commemoration of the Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan. The festival is also a chance for the Chinese to better their bodies and eliminate disease.
These American versions of Dragon Boat Racing festivals are fun, interactive and they do provide a good chance to build up your body. Talking with some of the participants, I learn that some of the teams train and race throughout the year. They take this festival seriously while having a good time – but it is very competitive. I was invited by Jeff, the Director of Operations, to join him on the rescue boat for some of the morning heats. Here are 50 reasons why Dragon Boat races are popular, fun and a good workout.
After many hours of training, all teams are prepared for racing day. The atmosphere is calm but the intensity is building.
Captain’s Meeting. All Captain’s are receiving their final instructions / rules for the day as their teams get geared up.
The battleground. Each team races in three heats with the best times (average) moving on to the finals. The course is 300 meters long in a straight line.
The standard “weapon” used by the paddlers. All equipment used, even if you bring your own, must meet the International Dragon Boat Federation mandate.
Respecting his preparation, I asked for a photo opp. He said yes and no more words were exchanged. He was getting in the zone. Always respect “the zone.”
Four lanes are set up for the race. Thirteen teams – three sets of three races and one grouping of four.
I’m sitting in the front of the rescue boat. The Athlete’s Village is bustling with teams making their final preparations for the first heat.
“The Lighthouse Lizards” (lime green) doing their final boarding while teams wait in the marshalling area.
Jeff – Director of Operations for Pan Am Dragon Boat LLC and Abby in the rescue boat. Abby has been involved with Dragon Boat racing since she was little. Today she is working the event.
The rescue boat in place. We are waiting for the racers for the first heat. Under sunny skies, it is a perfect day for racing on Lake Andrea.
Paula Jennings is the Marketing Manager for Pan American Dragon Boat Association, LLC. She and her team have these festivals well organized and managed.
“The Power Paddlers” are making their way to the starting line for the first round of heats.
Jeff is driving the boat around the starting line checking to make sure everything is set up correctly. The rescue boat hangs in the back of the dragon boats throughout each heat.
The first three teams are lined up and ready for the first heat. ‘Let the games begin!’
‘Little Drummer Boy.’ The drummer sits at the bow of the boat – keeping a rhythm going for the paddlers.
Every team shows their spirit throughout the festival. This lively spirit is key to having fun while maintaining focus for battle.
A steerperson is always standing at the stern of the 42 foot long boat using a 9 foot oar as a rudder.
Let’s hear it for “Pink Paddling Power.” Every lady on this team is a breast cancer survivor. Come one, come all to participate in the Dragon Boat Festival.
Three teams racing for the finish. Each boat must have a minimum of 8 women and max of 12 at all times.
On their way to the starting line, teams practice their coordination and timing before the start of a heat. This is the final prep before a heat begins.
Up close and personal with a drummer. The beat is strong and steady for 300 meters keeping the team coordinated and focused.
Here comes a dragon boat. The front and back of the boats are in the shape of a traditional Chinese dragon. Each boat has 10 rows seating 20 paddlers.
The final heat of the morning. There were 13 teams. Each heat had three teams racing with the last one racing four.
With the morning heats complete, the racing teams head to the Athlete’s Village for lunch. The afternoon heats get very competitive so a hearty lunch is in order.
The “Power Paddlers” getting ready for the afternoon heats. They have a routine to get themselves ready for the next round.
Who’s ready for the afternoon heats? The teams are getting ready for the final rounds. The intensity is brewing while fun is being maintained.
Teams wait to load their boats in the marshalling area. Once a boat becomes available they board and paddle to the starting line.
Backing out from the pier with one thing on their minds – let’s do this!
Staying focused. The drummer knows what is at stake and helps the paddlers stay in rhythm and mindfully aware of what needs to be done.
I stay ashore for the afternoon heats for a different perspective.
With a 60-90 minute break between heats for each team, they cannot become complacent. Some of these heats go neck ‘n’ neck (or dragon head ‘n’ dragon head) to the finish line.
Boom, boom, boom from the drums is all I heard. I was just as focused capturing the race as they were participating.
Meanwhile back on shore, the “Steel Dragons” are practicing their coordination, timing and commands with intense focus.
It is always good to let off steam and be silly. This keeps the festival fun. A lot of energy for these teams to race all day in the summer sun.
From standing ankle deep in Lake Andrea watching the race with intent to flying a kite, this young man was enjoying every second of his time at this year’s Dragon Boat Festival.
Fed, food digested, in good spirits and ready for afternoon racing. Let’s roll!
The afternoon races are heating up and the competition is fierce as every team vies for the 1st place trophy.
Back on the mainland, team “Arashi” stays loose by practicing their moves and commands. With the final rounds under way, every team is focused now more than ever.
Three teams in a tight race utilizing every ounce of energy for the final push towards the finish line.
The marshalling area housing two excited and ready teams. As soon as boats are available, the teams will go into battle as we near the end of the race.
Good times are being had and smiles are in abundance, but it is getting intense.
Here we come!
At the end of the race for the trophies, an optional race is offered to the top 6-8 teams. This race is 1000 meters long and races around in laps. After a long day of racing, I know everyone will sleep good tonight.
The Drummer for team Arashi scopes the water during the 1000 meter race.
The kite flyer bids farewell while keeping cool in the lake.
A long day of racing is coming to an end. Tired but not stopping.
It was impressive seeing these teams participate in the 1000 meter race after racing in the morning and afternoon heats for the grand prize. Congratulations to everyone!
The Pan Am Dragon Boat Festival hosts an amazing event. With their professional staff, well-organized system and adhering to their rules / guidelines, the Dragon Boat Festival is truly a wonderful event to participate in and / or attend as a spectator.
Teams paddling back to shore after the 1000 meter race. Time for the awards ceremony and good banter among everyone.
Under the tent for the awards ceremony. One guy from one of the teams walked up to me and said, “you’re still here.” He later walked past me and slipped a beer in my pocket while I was capturing the awards ceremony.
And the Grand Champion of the 2014 Kenosha Dragon Boat Festival c/o Pan Am Dragon Boat LLC is:
Paddlin’ for MB takes home the 2014 Grand Champion trophy.