ALEXANDRIA, La, May 18, 2011 — Drum beats, accompanied by rhythmic chants of “Stroke, Stroke, Stroke!” filled the air on Saturday, May 14, as thirty Dragon Boat teams battled the Red River to compete in the inaugural Louisiana Dragon Boat races, held in Alexandria, Louisiana.
Hosted by the Alexandria Museum of Art, the dragon boat races drew a crowd of some 4,500 onlookers to Alexandria’s Levee Park Amphitheatre to watch the races and cheer their favorite team to victory.
Businesses, churches, schools, athletic groups, government agencies, and groups of friends were eligible to participate, and on race day, thirty teams battled the Red River’s rising water and swift currents for “bragging rights” of being the champion team.
Each team consisted of 20 paddlers, plus a drummer in front and a helmsman in the rear of each 41-foot long dragon boat. Race requirements mandated that every team member wear a US Coast-Guard approved life vest, and have at least eight female paddlers.
Teams were allowed to design and wear their own uniforms, which were both colorful and, in some cases, ultra-creative. (This writer’s favorite team, the Kresstonites, won the trophy for the best team uniform – Go, Kresstonites, Go!)
Dragon Boat racing is a sport that existed throughout China for hundreds of years, and is currently growing in popularity across North America. One of the things that’s so much fun about this sport is that it is something people of all ages and physical conditioning can enjoy. Basically, if you can wield a paddle, you can participate!
Over the past ten years, it grew from relative obscurity to 80,000 participants who take part in over 100 festivals in municipalities across the country. Dragon Boat racing is easy to learn, and more important, safe. Teams can include men and women, and it’s a popular team building activity for community organizations and corporations.
Wayne Denley, race organizer and Chairman of the Boat Race Committee: “I think larger companies see the long-term potential of this idea and how it could grow to become an economic plus for the city…Other major cities across the country have built these events into city-wide festivals. We are thinking big—that is why we named it The Louisiana Dragon Boat Races…”
For the races in Alexandria, the Alexandria Museum of Art utilized the expertise of a Montreal-based Dragon Boat Racing company, the 22Dragons, to assist with the event.
Race safety was a primary concern, and organizers carefully monitored the Red River for rising water levels. Thankfully, the river crested prior to the race, and organizers were able to continue race preparations.
To make the event safer, the 250-meter course extended only about 40 feet from the dock near the Levee Park Amphitheatre in downtown Alexandria. Races began near downtown Alexandria’s Purple Heart Memorial Bridge on U.S. Highway 167, and boats traveled upstream to the finish line near the Levee Park Amphitheatre’s flagpole.
In addition to a life-vest requirement for every participant, additional safety precautions included officials from the Alexandria Police Department, Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Coast Guard and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries being on site for every event, and the presence of volunteer boats that could be utilized in case of an emergency.
Dragon Boat teams lined up in one of the three lanes for the timed events. The best times in the first two races determined the ranking for the final round. Premier Athletic Club won the competition. C3, the team from Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital, took second place and Hixson Heat, representing Hixson AutoPlex, won third place.
Dragon Boat racing is an absolute blast, not only for the competitors, but also for friends, family members, and visitors who cheer on their favorite teams. If you ever get the opportunity to participate in or attend a dragon boat race, my advice is “Go for it!”
See you next year in Alexandria, Louisiana at the yearly running of the Louisiana Dragon Boat races!
Paddles Up! PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR SLIDESHOW.
- And the winner of the Best Team Uniform: Kresstonites! Go team go! GREAT uniform!
- One of many dragon boats used in the races.
- One of many great items available for sale by talented artists.
- Enthusiastic Kresstonites team member! Check out the cool head gear!
- Ah! Nothing like a cool snow cone ! What's your favorite flavor?
- Visitors out to enjoy a day at the Dragon Boat Races!
- Enthusiastic fans ready to cheer on their favorite team!
- One of many dedicated race volunteers who helped put on this fabulous Dragon Boat Race!
- Enthusiastic race participant holding a team flag!
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