PAWTUCKET — On a beautiful summer day, what's better than being out on the Blackstone River paddling a boat in unison with some friends? And when that vessel is a unique and colorful Chinese dragon boat, the fun goes up a few notches, as well as the spirit of competition.
September 7 is the date for the 14th annual Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival (rain date is Sept. 8). The races are held on the Blackstone River off the School Street pier in Pawtucket, running in conjunction with the festival, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Since 2000, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC) has presented Rhode Island's Chinese Dragon Boat Races and Taiwan Day Festival. The event consists of dragon boat races for professional and amateur teams. It draws thousands of spectators each year for the race competition, as well as the festival, which celebrates the Chinese culture through arts and crafts, music, dancing, food, a “Chinese dumpling eating contest” and other family activities.
The races began when the BVTC used wooden dragon boats shipped from Hong Kong and gifted by local businessman Louis Yip. In 2003, the BVTC received the gift of six fiberglass dragon boats from the government of the Republic of China (Taiwan) that are now being used for the event.
According to the Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races website, a dragon boat is a human-powered vessel that was traditionally made of teak wood. These long boats were used in the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing which originated in China over 2,000 years ago. While competition has taken place for more than 20 centuries as part of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international “sport” in Hong Kong in 1976.
Today, the boats are made of fiberglass and feature colorfully decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. A full boat crew consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a person at the helm. Flag catching, demonstrating balance and agility, remains part of the races, and each team is required to have one person designated as the “flag catcher.” The 1,000-foot, three-lane course is shorter than those found at professional USDBF race events, due to the weight of the boats and the event's focus on fun.
Because practice makes perfect, it is not too early to start assembling a team for the Chinese Dragon Boat Races. Groups of family members, friends, and co-workers have traditionally joined together to form race teams. These have often involved colorful race garb and and equally colorful team names (“Won Ton Women” and “Dragon Bottom” are just a sampling from past entrants).
Race team registrations are now open, and teams may register using on-line forms available on the website: www.dragonboatri.com . Vendors seeking booths or food concessions may also register with forms available on the website.
Fiberglass boats are provided by the BVTC for practice purposes and teams are allowed plenty of time to prepare. According to the BVTC, the boats will be placed in the river next week at the Blackstone Landing, 45 Madeira Ave., in Central Falls, so teams can hold practices (the exact date is still to be announced due to the weather).
For more information, visit www.dragonboatri.com