The Dragon Boat Festival

Cleveland seems to come alive on the third weekend of September. The weather is cooler but it is still sunny and warm.  Clevelanders are trying to squeeze in the last of summer.

We headed down to the Nautica on Saturday morning and followed the crowds to the edge of the Cuyahoga River. People were lining up with chairs to watch the Dragon Boat Festival Race.

Long and narrow, each boat comes complete with dragon head.

Canopies were up in the parking lot.  Rowers  were dressed alike in t-shirts and vests. Boxes of food were there to replenish diminishing energy between rounds. Ice chests and bottles of water were everywhere. Groups of racers were stretching and otherwise warming up and the typical team cheers were heard from each group as they shouted their names: “Blazing Paddles” or ” Dragon Dream Team.”

We walked over to the floating dock where the boats were being loaded.  There were several nervous and excited participants jitterly waiting to be called to their places.  On each boat there was a place for the rudder steerer to stand at the back and a coxswain to sit in front beating a large drum. The rowers sat two abreast and the seats were a narrow wooden slat about 8 inches wide.

After we saw the set up, we went down the river a few yards to see the rounds start. First the teams had to row upstream to take their starting positions. There were delays in all the times as the event seemed a little “loosely” organized.

While we were waiting, I struck up a conversation with a member of the Blazing Paddles team out of Cleveland. She gave me a little background on how to become a member (basically show up, no previous experience necessary), what are the requirements (pay a small fee to participate and register to race), and the how often they row (twice a week). It seems one major incentive to participate is to meet up for food and drink at Hoopples afterwards.

It’s a two-boat race for second place.

Finally, the first three teams were ready and a horn sounded in the distance. Soon we saw Team Panda rounding a bend. The average age of this team looked to be about 18 so it was really a race between Gathering Place and Draggin’ Warriors who were far behind but more evenly matched. Viewers were eagerly shouting encouragement and whistling loudly.

The races are 500 meters so they are over rather quickly.

It was clear to me that there were at least two categories of teams: one was serious about competing; they practiced and were disciplined.  The other type of team was there to row and have fun.

Guess which team I would prefer?

We watched two rounds then headed for breakfast. The championship rounds were at 3pm.

For some reason, there were a lot of other big events happening in downtown this same day: Ingenuity Fest, Sparx City Hop, Cleveland Indians Baseball, Cleveland Browns and the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure.  The Race for the Cure reported a drop in participation by 2000 from last year. They blamed it on the controversy with Planned Parenthood earlier in the year. I think it is because people were drawn away by too many other things to do.

Naturally, there is nothing much happening downtown next weekend.  We’ll have to head out of town or live with our memories of dragons gliding down a churned up river.


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2 responses to “The Dragon Boat Festival”

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  1. Judy says:

    My cousin’s wife is a passionate dragon boater in Seattle. The requirement for her team is breast cancer survivor, and it is as much encouragement and group therapy as exercise. They are of the serious variety, traveling to Taiwan this summer to compete internationally. These sisters LOVE each other!!

  2. Karen says:

    The Gathering Place was a breast cancer survivor team. They were with Team Panda so they were terribly mismatched. But you could tell they really were bonded and having a lot of fun.