Colorful Dragon Boat Head
photo © Kenny Louie

Dragon Boat racing on lakes and rivers is gaining in popularity around the world. Serious teams participate in organized dragon boat races sanctioned by the International Dragon Boat Federation. Others participate for charity or just for fun. The dragon boat is a 2,500-year-old craft, native to China and southeast Asia. Traditionally, teams from local villages competed against each other during festivals in brightly-painted, narrow canoe-like boats with a dragon’s head protruding from the bow. A drummer in the prow beats time for the paddlers to make their strokes in unison, and a steersman in the stern controls the direction. Two abreast, the paddlers face forward to paddle their craft ahead of other teams. Dragon boats received wide public exposure during the 2014 Winter Olympics when the Russian Dragon Boat Federation carried the Olympic Flame.

Dragon Boats at Rest
photo © Andrea_44

A traditional dragon boat crew consists of 20 paddlers in 40-foot long, narrow boats. Today, many events use smaller boats with fewer paddlers that sit higher in the water with less chance of swamping. Most races adhere to the 500-meter course, but a few adopt a shorter 250-meter course. Many dragon boat races now feature cultural festivals with sand castle competitions, celebrations of ethnic food, and art and ecology-based exhibits. The United States Dragon Boat Federation is a member of the International Dragon Boat Federation and governs races in the USA. One of the most active groups in the United States is the International Breast Cancer Paddlers’ Commission. Originally begun in Canada as a way to promote team exercise for surgery survivors, the groups have multiplied and raise money for cancer research.

Lake Phalen Dragon Boat Race
photo © spikenheimer

Whether you are a spectator or competitor, a dragon boat race is the perfect excuse to enjoy a lake-based vacation this year. Lake Michigan hosts two great races this summer. The South Haven, Michigan Harborfest takes place on the lake’s eastern shore from June 19-22, 2014. Manitowoc, Wisconsin hosts Lakeshore Weekend on Lake Michigan’s western shore from August 1-3, 2014. Farther west, the Phalen Chain of Lakes is the site for this year’s Saint Paul, Minnesota Dragon Festival scheduled for July 12-13, 2014. While there, take advantage of the great walking paths along the Chain of Lakes. Or, paddle yourself by canoe or kayak through the six lakes navigable from the Phalen-Keller Regional Park. For less urban environs, Lake Bemidji in central Minnesota produces their ninth annual Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival on July 30-August 2, 2014. A well-known resort and fishing destination, 6,400-acre Lake Bemidji offers all sorts of resort and guest cabin rentals with sandy beaches and plenty of fishing for trophy walleye, muskie and northern pike.

Australian Dragon Boat Race
photo © asands

Okanagan Lake, British Columbia is a vacation wonderland. The 86,700-acre lake offers all types of water sports complemented by great beaches, hiking trails, horseback riding, interesting little villages, plenty of tourism accommodations, and even a resident mythical lake monster, Ogopogo. Okanagan Lake hosts the Kelowna Dragon Boat Festival on July 18-20, 2014. If a trip to Europe is on your 2014 bucket list, check out the 2014 European Dragon Boat Federation racing schedule with competitions across Europe, including England, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, and Switzerland. The European Nations Championship takes place in Racice, Czech Republic on July 25-27, 2014. And for even more international flair, the International Dragon Boat Federation provides racing venues across the globe. Start planning now for the 2015 World Nations Championships scheduled for August 19-23, 2015 at Niagara Falls (Ontario, Canada), along the Niagara River that connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Listen for the beating heart of a dragon…a dragon boat race is coming to a lake near you.

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