Dragon Boat Festival in Houston

Dragon boat race
The growing Texas Dragon Boat Association has its 7th Annual Dragon Boat Festival coming up soon. The group is also building its first Dragon Boathouse on Buffalo Bayou, with help from Houston Endowment. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Dragon boats are long canoes with the head of a dragon mounted on the bow. Dragon boat racing is just like crew rowing in the Olympics, except each boat has 8 to 10 pairs of rowers sitting side by side, facing forward and paddling furiously for 250 meters. Dr. Caroline Long with the Texas Dragon Boat Association agrees that's a real sprint.

"It's not very long, but it is very fast, and the good teams can probably do it in under a minute. It is a sprint. A sprint to the finish."

Long says dragon boat racing traces its roots back more than 2,000 years in China.

"There was this famous poet who had drowned himself in protest of the government. So these fishermen paddled their colorful boats, decorated with dragons, out to try and rescue the poet who committed suicide. They weren't able to rescue him, but every year on the fifth day of the fifth month they would enact the attempts to rescue this poet."

Today dragon boating is one of the fastest growing team sports in the world, with dragon boat associations in more than 50 countries.

"There are so many teams on the east coast and on the west coast that do dragon boat racing, and there are a lot of Olympic canoers and kayakers that actually transition to dragon boating."

The Texas Dragon Boat Association holds annual festivals and regattas on Buffalo Bayou at Allen's Landing, and they typically attract dozens of boats with hundreds of paddlers and thousands of spectators. Long says this year's festival expects at least 30 racing teams from all over the country.

"On Saturday May 5th we have our 7th annual Houston Dragon Boat Festival taking place in downtown Houston at Allen's Landing, and it highlights Buffalo Bayou and the renovations that have taken place along that particular stretch of the bayou."

Renovations encouraged and spurred along by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which recently helped the Dragon Boat Association get a 75 thousand dollar grant from Houston Endowment to build their first boathouse. It'll be on Buffalo Bayou about a mile east of downtown, on York Street near Tony Marrone Park. Partnership President Anne Olsen says it's exactly the kind of development they're trying to bring to that part of town.

"Where we're standing right now over in the east end, we've made a lot of progress with the hike and bike trail that we're building all the way to Lockwood Drive. So slowly and incrementally there's a lot of improvement taking place."

There's more information about the Texas Dragon Boat Association, and the work of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership on the website KUHF dot org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.