Kelfred Chang has been involved in the Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival for nearly 20 years, enthusiastically supporting the event as race co-director. He says the festival emphasizes community and team-building as much as athleticism, bringing together people from all over the world.
The annual Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival will be held this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Ala Moana Beach Park. About 50 local and international teams are expected in this year’s festivities with participants traveling to Honolulu from places such as New Zealand, Australia, Vancouver, Texas, and Long Beach. Chang says it’s an excellent spectator sport, even if you don’t know any of the participants.
Dragon boats hold about 15 paddlers, along with a drummer and steersperson. At the Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival, three teams race in each heat and the winning team advances. All teams race in heats until only three winning teams remain. Heat and lane selections are done at random, with a few opportunities for the teams that didn't advance to compete against each other.
There are a few origin stories related to the Dragon Boat Festival. The most popular theory is that around 278 B.C., political advisor and famed Chinese poet Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River in the Hunan Province to protest political corruption. In response, people began to organize dragon boat races to honor his sacrifice and memory.
Today dragon boat races are conducted in places as close as Ala Moana Beach Park and as far-flung as the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Recent dragon boat events have been held on the U.S. Mainland, including Oregon, New England, and Illinois.
At the Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival, local participants share their favorite savory dishes and appetizers with international visitors at a hospitality tent. “That’s when this works,” said Chang. “That [embodies] the dragon boat community.”
For more information about the festival, visit dragonboathawaii.com.