Staff File Photo by Gillian Bolsover
The Red Rowers, from the radiation oncology department of Erlanger hospital, practice rowing a dragon boat on the Tennessee River at a previous race.
Drumming, screaming, grunting, spitting and dreaming — it’s all part of the atmosphere when 1,000 paddlers row in the third round of Chattanooga dragon boat races.
Saturday’s Chattanooga Dragon Boat Festival sends 49 teams racing 250 meters down the Tennessee River in 41-foot-long boats. The race raises money for T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Dragon boat racing began in China more than 2,300 years ago, according to race promoters. A popular patriot drowned himself in the Mei Lo River because he felt “disenfranchised by a corrupt government,” and hundreds of people rushed to save his body from being eaten by fish.
Dragons feel friendly to the Chinese. Unlike Europe, dragons traditionally symbolize monarchy and benevolent power in that country.
In the United States, dragon boat races breathe more fire every year. More than 75,000 people competed in races in 2005, according to Dynamic Events and Management, a Knoxville-based dragon boat festival company.
General Shale Brick’s Scenic City Shockers team captain and district sales manager Barry Sowell said piloting a dragon boat downriver is “kind of like a funky bamboo telegraph going on.”
“It’s like an overgrown canoe,” Sowell added. “You’re sitting two people side by side, and everybody gets to whooping and hollering and yelling, and (the company) has someone steer the boat, and she gets to yelling and hollering and the smallest person in the group sits on the front and beats the drum and yells with her to keep everybody in pace.”
Along with the races, a festival of sorts also takes place on the shore. Chickamauga Lake’s swimming area, the site of the U.S. National Dragon Boat Racing Championships in 2010, will be covered with team tents, some offering freebies.
It’s all for a good cause, Sowell said. Winning isn’t the goal.
“I think we’re ready to have a good time,” he said. “I’m not going to say we’re ready to win anything.”
IF YOU GO
What: Chattanooga Dragon Boat Festival.
When: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Chickamauga Lake, at the TVA Park where the dam is located. Finish line at the swimming area. (Watch for signs off Highway 153.)
Web site: http://chatt.racedragon boats.com.
8:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies (includes traditional Chinese entertainment and dotting of the eye ceremony).
9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Races (first and second rounds).
3 p.m. Championship races.
All day. Moon walk, inflatables and other children’s activities, performances.
Part of the fun of dragon boat festivals is coming up with a colorful name for the crew. Here are some in Saturday’s race.
* Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee: Rowed Warriors
* Heritage Funeral Home: The Pallbearers
* Hospice of Chattanooga: Hospice Free Love
* Community Team: Tipsy Canoe
* Community Team: Ship Happens
See live coverage in Sunday’s Times Free Press.