The 2013 San Francisco International Dragon Boat Race was held on September 14 – 15 at Treasure Island. The San Francisco International Dragon Boat Race is organized by the California Dragon Boat association. The festival—formerly known as the Northern California Dragon Boat Championships—moved from Lake Merced to Treasure Island to accommodate a greater number of participants and spectators.
Local boats, two dozen or more, typically vie with teams from throughout California and as far away as Oregon and Canada over a 500 meter course. Champions are recognized in Novice, High School, Competitive and Recreational categories. Race schedules and other details are available on the SFIDBF site.
In addition to Dragon Boat races the San Francisco Festival typically features cultural performances including lion dance, taiko drumming, Polynesian and Chinese folk dance and a Dragon Land for the kids with free activities and games. At past events a rock climbing wall and US Marines Endurance Challenge Obstacle Course, Book Factory along with food and a variety of arts, crafts, and fitness related vendors have contributed to the festive atmosphere.
The practice of racing long, narrow, human-powered canoe style boats began in Southern China over 2000 years ago. Competitions typically feature boats rigged with decorative dragon heads and tails, 20 seated paddlers, a drummer to set the pace facing the paddlers and the 22nd team member, known as the sweep, is in the stern to steer. Variations exist it the length of dragon boats and correspondingly their crew with as few as 10 or as many as 50 paddlers.
Traditional boats in China and Hong Kong were raced with 12 pairs of paddlers—24 total—but as dragon boat racing became popular internationally shipping boats overseas in 40′ containers favored shorter boats. While dragon boats were initially made of teak, today’s race boats are fiberglass with closed-cell foam in the bulkheads to ensure positive buoyancy.
Chinese Dragon Boat races and festivals may date to over 250 BC as one legend has fishermen in long boats, beating drums to scare fish away and throwing dumplings into the water to keep fish from eating the body of Qu Yuan—beloved minister to the Emperor during the Zhou dynasty. Qu Yuan had thrown himself into the Milou River in despair after failure to follow his advice resulted in the Zhou being defeated by the Quin Kingdom. Dragon Boat festivals are traditionally on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month—the anniversary of Qu Yuan’s death. Dragon Boat races are a highlight of these festivals which take place all over China, Hong Kong and many other Chinese communities.
Dragon Boat festivals are held in over 40 countries. In Canada the Toronto Dragon Boat Festival attracts over 180 – 200 teams and 5,000 athletes to an annual event begun in 1989. There are also festivals in Victoria, Regina and Ottawa and Edmonton. The United Kingdom has several festivals.
In the United States Boston celebrated its 30th Annual Dragon Boat Festival in 2010 on the Charles River. Portland has hosted the Portland-Kaohsiung Sister City Association Dragon Boat races for over 20 years. Philadelphia‘s dragon boat association was founded in 1983 and Tampa’s began in 1999.
The United States Dragon Boat Federation (USDBF) is the Governing Body for Dragon Boat Sport in the U.S. and organizes the US Club Crew National Championships.
Visit San Francisco’s Chinatown page