Colorado Dragon Boat Festival
The Colorado Dragon Boat FestivalArticle by: © Jeff Herbert 2013
It all began with a non-chalant comment by my brother mentioning the festival while we were dicussing my visit to Colorado for a bit of wildlife photography. Having not been abroad in a year, my interest was piqued, and my wanderlust demanded satisfaction. The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is an awesome display of Asian arts, food and of course the main event of dragon boat racing. It happens every year over a Saturday and Sunday on the shore of Sloan Lake Park in Wheatridge, Colorado which is just 15 minutes from downtown Denver. I attended the 6th annual occurance of this event in July 2006 and experienced the very best Asian festival you could expect to observe outside of Asia.
I surveyed the scene Sunday morning on my morning coffee run and ran into two festival volunteers in line for my cappucino. They gave me the low down on the schedule for the day. They confirmed my suspicions that while yesterday was an exciting start to the festival with the Dragon Spirit Awakening ceremony and practice runs of the competitors, today was the main event with a grand procession before the 48 adult teams take up their paddles in a battle for the honored Dragon Cup. It turns out that the ancient sport of dragon boat racing is experiencing a revival and will even be a demonstration sport in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
With little parking available I was dropped off at 10 am along with my camera gear and 4 friends to cross into the festival gates and leave our Western world behind for a while. We walked through dozens of tents where the various teams proudly displayed their colors and into the artisan's marketplace. There were 100 or so booths selling paintings, sculpture and the wonderful textiles you would expect to see in an Asian market. Many organizations were present as well, with my brother stopping by the Peace Corps booth to pick up an application. As I was looking at a festival t-shirt to buy my attention was pulled to the sound of a loud drum.
Marchers cleared the main drag through the event and the parade of participants had begun. They carried banners proclaiming their team sponsors with names like "The Great Wall Association" and "Spirit of Cambodia." There was traditional dancing and music and what Asian procession would be complete without a huge undulating dragon being supported on top of its operator's staffs? The group traversed the festival grounds and back again to their tents to prepare for the races.
As the first two boats paddled away from shore to the starting bouys the spectators flocked to the water's edge competing themselves for the best view. The boat team consists of 9 pairs of rowers, a paddler in the rear to steer, a drummer to set the pace and a man in the bow whose job it is to pull the flag from the finish line bouy proclaiming that the team has crossed and their time must be recorded. The 150 meter course takes about 2 minutes to complete.
After watching several races it was time to eat and the food court representing dozens of local restaurants had something for everyone. The usual fare was present such as Thai curry, spring rolls and Chow-fun noodles, but I was after something unique. I found it at a Vietnamese stall offering delicious triangular rice dumplings possessing a secret filling of sweet and spicy mushrooms all wrapped into a bamboo leaf and steamed. Amazing and truly something I have only seen in Asia.
Well the hot sun and spicy lunch left us in need of a refreshing beverage, so we took my brother's advice and headed a few blocks west of the festival to a local neighborhood bar called what else but Sloans in honor of Sloan Lake. The drinks were cold and the friendly rock-a-billy female staff surely should be on anyone's itinerary while attending this festival. So a good buzz and back to the festival for some culture.
The teams were taking a rest when we returned and were preparing for the finals in the late afternoon. In the meantime we went back and forth between two stages of Asian entertainment. There were martial art exhibitions with high flying gymnastic moves, Taiko drums sending vibrations to your soul, traditional dancing to seduce and colorful dress that would impress the most avid festival junkies.
With the finals now about to begin the spirit of the event was about to reach its climax. The crowds swarmed to where the boats launched but I choose a spot on the Northwest corner of the lake with a great view of the finish line. The competitors' passion was palpable and watching them row their hearts out really made you want to join in. In the end the winners were the "Lao Buddhist Temple Of Colorado" team. Leaving the festival was like reverse culture shock and with my wanderlust temporarily satisfied, I vowed to return next year.
Colorado Dragon Boat Festival Dates, Location and Further Information
The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival takes place in July every year over a Saturday and Sunday on the shore of Sloan Lake Park in Wheatridge, Colorado. For more information check out there web site at www.coloradodragonboat.org/.
More Colorado Dragon Boat Festival
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