The True Meaning Behind the Dragon Boat Festival

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By Hannah Lawrie – ISN

Victoria, BC (ISN) – Last weekend’s Dragon Boat Festival provided an awesome display of paddling and athleticism by many teams, but the true meaning and purpose of the Festival was to rasie funds to assist the BC Cancer Society. ISN’s Hannah Lawrie strolled through the festival last weekend and provides a touching and unique perspective on that aspect of the event. 

I walk through a thicket of people and paddles. A wet wind runs over the dock in downtown Victoria, but the athletes are undeterred. They march in lines from the Paddler’s Village to the water. Each paddler knows their place in line, a formation of strength they are familiar with. I pass vendors, belly dancers, and a giant purple dragon, until I hit the water’s edge. My impression of a Dragon Boat race becomes an expression of power and committed work as a team. There are four boats in the water. I watch them run forward making dark waves. The boats move like invisible ropes are pulling them from afar. The athletes lean forward and tear through the harbor with each stroke. The racers are a dominating decoration that takes the fear out of deep water. I stand impressed.

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Paddlers walk in formation to their boats (Photo: Mark Yager / Island Sports News)

 

I focus again on milling around the spectators. I see so much friendship and even more competitors! Every sight includes a team warming up for a race or other athletes absorbing the same sights as me. This weekend of Dragon boating is truly a festival. Activities included an Air Guitar competition in the beer garden, a pink carnation toss in honor of breast cancer survivors and an eye dotting ceremony to awake the spirits of the dragons.

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Nanaimo’s Dragon Slayer Team warms up (Photo: Mark Yager / Island Sports News)

The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival welcomes 90 paddling teams from around the West Coast, including teams from Oregon. The history of Dragon Boating suggests that ancient Chinese communities held Dragon Boating festivals to keep evil ‘at bay’. How fitting our modern Dragon Boat teams often use their sport at as rally against cancer.

While at the festival I walk across the dock to a citrus coloured wall of lanterns. I dream about seeing them lit at night. They are the brightest hot orange, red and pink colours. I see others around me reading the notes attached to the lanterns and so I read one. Upon finishing the note my heart sank. This person knew someone who died of cancer too.

I touched more of the soft paper and read another note. The second one was a prayer. I was hooked! I wanted to touch them all and grasp the warmth that wasn’t coming from a lit lantern, but the note attached. I wanted to search for one written for the woman I loved, who died of cancer. But I didn’t have to. Everything I could have said was written there. The prayers were shared across the wall along the water. It was a formidable wall, much more powerful than any evil it was keeping at bay.

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The River Spirit and Gorge-Us-Gals teams warm up for their race (Photo: Mark Yager / Island Sports News)

To celebrate their wins, Dragon Boaters are awarded Platinum, Diamond, Gold and Silver titles. Victoria’s own Gorging Dragons were awarded Platinum in the final race. As well as sport and entertainment, the Victoria Dragon Boat Festival hoped to reach a goal of $20,000 raised for the BC Cancer Foundation. Paddlers were able to donate pledges from supporters all around the country for this organization.

The festival was a weekend of accomplishment for athletes, fundraisers and supporters. May everyone who has been touched by cancer feel the strength of a soaring Dragon Boat behind them and the brightness of lanterns lit by their family’s prayers.

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