Photos courtesy of Arizona Dragon Boat Association

With origins tracing back over two millennia, dragon boat racing has transformed from a solemn Chinese ritual into a vibrant global sporting event.

This March 23 and 24, the Arizona Dragon Boat Association (AZDBA) invites the public to witness this historical sport at Tempe Town Lake during the annual Arizona Dragon Boat Festival.

The event commemorates Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet who in ancient China drowned himself in the Miluo river to protest against the government. Local villagers, in their grief, raced out on their boats to protect his body from being eaten by fish, giving birth to dragon boat racing.

Today, a dragon boat is typically a 20-paddler vessel, complete with a drummer and a steersperson. For races, the boats are adorned with dragon heads and tails, living up to their mythical name. The AZDBA also offers smaller 10-person boats.
Dragon boating has seen a surge in popularity across the United States, particularly along both coasts and at Tempe Town Lake. It’s a sport that transcends age and background, with teams ranging from youth and university groups to veterans and breast cancer survivors.

The AZDBA, part of a network of dragon boating organizations including the Pacific Dragon Boat Association and the United States Dragon Boat Federation, serves as the bedrock of Arizona’s dragon boating activities. They host the annual festival, which has become a tradition since 2004, attracting teams from across the nation and occasionally international crews.

The main stage offers entertainment, and attendees can enjoy a variety of food and shopping vendors. Admission for spectators is free, making it an inclusive event for the whole community.

From the heart-pounding races that commence at 8 a.m. to the medal ceremonies on Sunday afternoon, the Arizona Dragon Boat Festival is must-see. It’s a unique opportunity to experience an ancient tradition that has found an unexpected home in the heart of the Arizona desert.

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