Bring together 100,000 spectators and 180 teams – plus a few hundred boats painted to look like menacing Chinese dragons – and what do you get?
The 24th annual Dragon Boat Festival, which returns to downtown Vancouver June 15-17. Started in 1988 as a celebration of Vancouver’s rich multicultural heritage, the festival has grown into one of the city’s premier summer events. Crowds pack the shores of scenic False Creek around Science World and Olympic Village for two days of free live music, beer gardens and – of course – some intense dragon boat racing.
New to the sport? Dragon boats – slim vessels originally made of teak and powered by dozens of paddlers – originated thousands of years ago in southern China’s Pearl River delta. Traditionally, teams from competing villages faced off in annual competitions as part of summer solstice celebrations.
In modern times, dragon boat racing has evolved into a popular international sport. The standard crew consists of 20 paddlers, one drummer to keep time and one sweep to handle steering. In recognition of the sport’s long history, boats are elaborately painted and often feature decorative dragon heads and tails.
The action in Vancouver kicks off on Friday, June 15, with the dragon boat eye-dotting ceremony. Using red cinnabar paint, officials dab an eye onto the fearsome figurehead of each dragon boat, awakening the spirit of the slumbering dragon.
Things heat up on Saturday and Sunday, with races starting at 8 a.m. There’s live music at the World Beat Stage from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., including performances by local favourites Orkestar Slivovica (2 p.m. on June 16) and The Boom Booms (5 p.m. on June 17). Granville Island Brewing puts on a gala beer garden on the shores of False Creek. Plus, there’s a kids’ area, a marketplace and plenty of street food, from dim sum to Jamaican jerk, donairs, Thai food and tacos. Expect huge crowds and lots of ferocious paddling.
For more information, visit the Dragon Boat Festival website.
Been to the Dragon Boat Festival before? What’s the best part?