MARATHON, Florida Keys — The annual Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival set for Saturday, May 20, at Marathon's Sombrero Beach offers spectators beachfront excitement as teams of 20 paddlers power their sleek boats in unison, racing parallel to the shore.
Crowds of cheering spectators get a close-up view of the 400-meter course, while elaborately decorated 40-foot-long racing "dragons" are propelled by teams of men and women of all ages in an inspiring display of strength and teamwork. Each team is led by a drummer and directed by a steerperson.
The modern dragon boat race re-enacts a legend from the fourth century B.C. in which the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, advisor to the emperor of the Ch'u dynasty, defied his ruler by drowning himself in China's Miluo River. In a race to save their martyr Qu Yuan from creatures of the deep, fishermen beat drums and vigorously splashed the water with their paddles.
In Chinese culture, dragons represent strength and are powerful symbols of spring rains and growth.
While competitive teams regularly participate in a nationwide dragon-race circuit, the Keys event encourages community and recreational club teams to compete in races to raise money for individual charities. Sombrero Beach provides a unique from-the-shore launch area for the boats.
Teams can register until May 5 in categories including mixed, women, senior, youth and breast cancer survivors. Interested groups can form a team or individual paddlers can be placed on an existing team.
Racing begins at 8:30 a.m. Saturday and concludes around 2 p.m., followed by awards, music and a beach celebration. Each team typically competes three times on race day.
Beachside attractions during the festival include food and beverages, merchandise, kids' play areas and entertainment. There is no charge to attend event activities.
Event information and team registration: battleinthebaydragonboat.com/
Marathon visitor information: fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284
Sombrero Beach provides a unique from-the-beach launch.
Teams of 20 paddlers power their sleek 40-foot-long boats in unison, racing parallel to the shore.
Each team is led by a drummer and directed by a steerperson.