Dragon Boat racing has been around for more than 2000 years. It’s popularity on the east coast began to soar in the late eighties, starting in the Philadelphia area. The third annual Dragon Boat Festival in Cape May will take place this Saturday September 19th on the harbor along Delaware Avenue. Team Bio’s are on the Dragon Boat website.
In the late seventies, while I was still sculling along the Schuylkill river, grass-roots clubs led by Robert McNamara were getting a foothold. Seen here with Bob’s brother Pete in a double scull we were just learning what Dragon Boat racing was all about.
The modern Dragon Boat Race is based upon a traditional re-enactment of the race to save Qu Yuan, advisor to an ancient King of China, who threw himself into the Milou River after being banished from his home. Fisherman coming to his rescue, beat drums and splashed their paddles on the water to prevent the river dragon from eating Qu Yuan. Over the centuries, village fishing boats went out each year in a symbolic search, and began to take part in races that evolved into Dragon Boat Racing’s present form.
Cape May’s Dragon Boat races have been wildly popular. Teams from all over town and the surrounding area have signed up and attended past races. There should be more than 40 teams this year, made up of friends, family, co-workers, clubs, schools, hospitals, community groups, employees of local businesses, nonprofits and people who just want to have fun.
Cape May’s festival is unique because it features a beach load and teams race for their favorite charity, organization, team points or just for the fun of it. In Cape May each boat is usually composed of 22 paddlers and a drummer.
The Philadelphia International Dragon Boat Festival might be the areas largest event on the Schuylkill River, held in October a week after Cape May’s festival. Dragon Boat racing became so popular that in 1991, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was formed.
Based in Hong Kong, the IDBF boasts over 100 member organizations in more than 40 countries. Since 1995, World Championship events have been awarded to Canada, China, New Zealand, England, Australia and the United States. A Commission was developed to oversee the standardization of equipment, rules and regulations.
If you plan to attend
Saturday September 19th
Racing is from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Admission is free along Delaware Avenue.
Parking along Pennsylvania Avenue and Pittsburgh Avenue is suggested.