Teams of 20 paddlers propel elaborately decorated 40-foot-long racing “dragons” in unison along a 400-meter racecourse, as a drummer and steerperson keep rhythm and direct them.
Sombrero Beach provides a unique, from-the-shore launch area for the boats.
In Chinese culture, dragons represent strength and are powerful symbols of spring rains and growth. The modern dragon boat race re-enacts a legend from the fourth century B.C. in which the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, advisor to the emperor of the Ch’u dynasty, defied his ruler by drowning himself in the Mi Lo River. In a race to save their martyr Qu Yuan from the creatures of the deep, the area’s fishermen beat drums and vigorously splashed the water with their paddles.
In the U.S., teams compete in a countrywide dragon-race circuit. For the Florida Keys event, however, organizers encourage corporate, community and recreational “club” teams to network and compete in the Dragon Boat Festival to raise money for their respective charities. Paddles, life vests, training and coaching are provided by the event’s producers.
Group teams of up to 25 people can register as mixed, women, senior, youth and breast cancer survivors. Interested individual paddlers also can be placed on an existing team. Fees are $1,200 for local teams, $850 for visiting teams and $650 for breast cancer survivor teams.
Racing is expected to begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and conclude around 2 p.m., followed by awards, music and a beach celebration. Each team typically races three times on race day.
Beachside attractions during the festival include food and beverages, merchandise, kids’ play areas and plentiful entertainment. There is no charge to attend beachside activities.
Event information and team registration: battleinthebaydragonboat.com/
Marathon visitor information: fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284
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