The Miami Dragon Boat Festival: Preserving Traditions and Culture

Kate Markus, Life Editor

On Nov. 20, the GWN Dragon Boat Festival took place at the Miami Marine Stadium in Key Biscayne. 

The Festival focuses on Dragon Boat racing, a team water sport played in dragon boats — large, canoe-like vessels adorned with carved dragons’ heads and tails. Originally, the boats were 1,400 pounds and handmade with teak. Now, the wood-and-plastic boats weigh about 400 pounds and remain well-preserved for the competitions. 

Large boats typically hold 20 people — 18 paddlers, one steerer and one drummer, who sets the rhythm for the strokes. The racers cover distances that can vary from 100 to 2,000 meters, with most races averaging 500 meters. 

Dragon boat racing originated more than 2,000 years ago in Southern China and played a major role in ancient Chinese myths and legends. Functioning as a fertility rite during the Summer Solstice, Dragon Boat racing sought to ensure plentiful crops and avert misfortune. Early dragon boat races were mock battles intended to awaken the hibernating Heavenly Dragon.

Official dragon boat races arranged by organizations like GWN are held in many parts of the world, particularly in recent years. One of the more renowned organizations is the International Dragon Boat Federation. 

The International Dragon Boat Federation, a non-governmental, non-profit world organization for dragon boating and other paddle sport activities, hosted their first world championship in 1995, with 820 athletes from 14 countries. The most recent championship in Thailand in 2019 featured more than 3,300 athletes from 30 countries. 

Both the IDBF and GWN focus on spreading and developing dragon boat racing and maintaining the sport’s cultural, historical and religious traditions.

Also committed to preserving Asian culture, the Asian Culture Club at Miami Palmetto Senior High focuses on informing and educating MPSH students about diverse Asian cultures. Events like the GWN Dragon Boat festival help to preserve and shine a light on traditions that may otherwise go unnoticed.

“I do believe it’s important to bring, not only Asian cultural heritage events, but all sorts of cultural heritage events to Miami. Hosting these events helps spread awareness of other cultures and ultimately fosters a community that is open-minded and accepting,” Palmetto senior Ryan Jagers said. 

Attending Asian cultural events also helps the new generation of Asian American youth learn about their roots and the history surrounding their culture.

“I’ve been to my fair share of Asian cultural events like Chinese and Vietnamese New Year festivals, and they teach me so much about where I come from,” Jagers said. “From the unique cuisines to traditional performances, these events act like a microcosm into what the culture is like in Asia.”

A portion of the proceeds from the event goes to Save Our Sisters Miami, a team of dragon boat competitors consisting of all breast cancer survivors. Save Our Sisters focuses on encouraging victims of breast cancer to keep fighting, with 175 breast cancer survivors from both North and South America taking part in the annual festival.