Adults and children will be awed by the sight of the dragon boat races coming to Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius on May 15. The Dragon Boat Festival is an action-packed day of competitive dragon boat races, cultural presentations, food and fun for the family.
Dragon boat racing is one of the earliest known forms of boat racing, according to the Charlotte dragon boat festival website. The roots of dragon boat racing go back 2,300 years. The legend tells the story of Qu Yuan, an adviser to the emperor, who jumped into the Mei Lo River to protest against government corruption. The local fisherman rushed out to save him. They beat drums and slammed their paddles into the water to distract the dragons from eating Qu Yuan. Dragon boat racing is now re-enacted at festivals all over the world.
A dragon boat is similar to a canoe but much longer. A decorated dragon's head is on the front, with a tail on the back. Each boat holds about 20 paddlers and one drummer. The drummer, along with the steerperson, helps the boat to keep its course and stay motivated. The average race course is 500 meters in length.
Dragon boat races regained popularity in the United States in 1988. After that, it spread like wildfire throughout the country. But it wasn't until 2006 that Charlotte had its first festival. Dr. John Chen, founder of the Charlotte Dragon Boat Festival and president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, was integral in bringing the festival to our area. Each year the festival has grown in popularity. In 2006, 18 teams competed. This year, there are 36 teams. The majority of the teams are local, from our own community. They can often be seen practicing on Saturdays at Midtown Sundries, West Catawba Avenue, Cornelius. There is also a team from Charleston and a breast cancer survivor team from Canada. Winning teams will be awarded medals and trophies.
The Lake Norman community has been a great support to this festival. "It is a great team and community builder," Chen said. He said so many individuals and organizations have rallied to make this event successful, including the Mecklenburg Parks and Recreations Department and Visit Lake Norman. The Coast Guard Auxiliary will be at the event to ensure the safety of participants.