Re­lease the dragons: Boat fest is back

Events at Sloan’s Lake this week­end cel­e­brate Asian com­mu­ni­ties

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Gra­ham Am­brose

When the robed monk blesses the dragon, the fes­ti­val will have be­gun.

It’s a tra­di­tion known as “Awak­en­ing the Dragon,” and it’s been an an­nual fea­ture of the Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val since its in­cep­tion in 2001. Be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion be­gins, Bud­dhist monks will bless the dragon boats as spe­cial guests “dot the eyes” of the rac­ing ve­hi­cles.

The spir­i­tual cer­e­mony helps kick off the fes­ti­val, which will take over Sloan’s Lake Park from 10 a.m. on Satur­day to 6 p.m. on Sun­day.

For 17 years, the Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val — the largest of its kind in the na­tion — has been a source of pride and cul­tural preser­va­tion for thou­sands of Asians across the Rocky Moun­tain re­gion.

“The Asian com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­ica were very siloed, and the fes­ti­val was a way to bring all Asians to­gether,” said fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Jen­nifer Nguyen. “This is a place where Asians can gather to­gether and learn about their cul­ture, both tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary.”

Nguyen takes pride in the in­clu­sive­ness of the “all-Asian” event, which keeps alive a wide va­ri­ety of dis­tinct prac­tices and rit­u­als, from tra­di­tional dance per­for­mances to a spicy ra­men-eat­ing con­test. Mo­tel6 re­cently named the Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val one of the top six quirki­est sum­mer fes­ti­vals in the United States.

Or­ga­niz­ers ex­pect more than 100,000 peo­ple to at­tend the fes­ti­val, which will fea­ture nearly 80 ven­dors and or­ga­ni­za­tions, 27 Taste of Asia food

op­tions, and live per­for­mances on five themed stages, from magic to mu­sic to mar­tial arts.

The name­sake ac­tiv­ity, dragon boat rac­ing, is a 2,000-year-old tra­di­tional Chi­nese pad­dling sport that com­bines art and ath­leti­cism. It has two ba­sic di­vi­sions: Tai­wan-style, or flag-catch­ing; and Hong Kong-style, or com­pet­i­tive rac­ing, which uses lower and faster ves­sels with­out flag catch­ers strad­dling the boat head.

Forty teams from across the world will be con­verg­ing on Colorado to pad­dle in 52 races over the two­day fes­ti­val. The Ok­i­nawa Sum­mer Dragons, a di­verse mix of 20 women who first raced in Ja­pan in 2007, will com­pete in the Hong Kong-style com­pe­ti­tion.

Karin Van Gor­den is a guest re­la­tions tour rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Miller­Coors, a spon­sor of the fes­ti­val, and cap­tain of the Coors dragon boat team. Seven years ago, she had never stepped in a boat, let alone a ca­noe. When a col­league asked her to join the com­pany boat at the 2010 fes­ti­val, she de­cided to pick up a pad­dle.

“I like new chal­lenges,” she said. “It’s a real work­out. And there’s a whole tech­nique. It’s all about be­ing in sync with the boat. If you’re fast but not in sync, you won’t go any­where and you’ll tire out.”

The 20-per­son Coors boat hits the wa­ter only a hand­ful of times each year — two prac­tices, and then all-day com­pe­ti­tion on the first day of the fes­ti­val. Still, Van Gor­den says she’s no­ticed marked im­prove­ment over the years, even if the com­pe­ti­tion re­mains light-hearted.

“Peo­ple want to win for sure, but if we don’t win no one’s hard on them­selves or un­sports­man­like,” she said. “It’s all re­ally fun.”

Af­ter the dragon-bless­ing cer­e­mony, the fes­ti­val will kick off with an Olympics-style procession in which the com­pet­ing rac­ers will rep­re­sent their spon­sor­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and com­mu­ni­ties.

Par­tic­i­pants be­long to more than 40 Asian eth­nic- ities and na­tion­al­i­ties within metro Den­ver. The panoply of iden­ti­ties rep­re­sents a unique strength of the Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val, said Tom Kazu­tomi, a Ja­pane­seAmer­i­can im­mi­grant and chair of the fes­ti­val’s board of di­rec­tors.

“This or­ga­ni­za­tion is work­ing to il­lu­mi­nate the dif­fer­ent cul­tures within the greater Asian com­mu­nity,” he said. “We try to be cog­nizant of the fact that there are many Asian com­mu­ni­ties.”

Since his in­volve­ment with the fes­ti­val be­gan in the early 2000s, he’s wit­nessed an evo­lu­tion from an em­pha­sis on tra­di­tional cul­ture to a more in­clu­sive and dy­namic show­cas­ing of con­tem­po­rary cul­tural in­te­gra­tion.

That shift re­flects larger de­mo­graphic shifts tak­ing place across the metro re­gion. Over the past 10 years, the Mile High City has sus­tained one of the high­est ur­ban growth rates in the coun­try. Den­ver has around 24,000 Asian res­i­dents, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

“Den­ver is very di­verse, and it’s con­tin­u­ing to grow and ex­pand,” said Nguyen. “There’s noth­ing like this out there. It show­cases both ath­letic com­pe­ti­tion and tra­di­tional per­for­mances and cul­ture. It merges two worlds into one. Peo­ple re­ally care about the com­mu­nity and want to learn more, to be con­nected.”

Den­ver Post file

Laura McFad­den, flag puller for Team Se­cu­rity Ser­vice One, grabs the flag in a race with Team Seas The Dragon! dur­ing the 2014 Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val at Sloan’s Lake Park.

Kathryn Scott, Den­ver Post file

Jiany­ing Shifu, left, a monk from the Chung Tai Zen Cen­ter, uses paint and a brush for the eye-dot­ting cer­e­mony be­fore the Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val in 2012. As­sist­ing is Shifu Solow, cen­ter, from the Shaolin Hung Mei Kung Fu Academy, and Fan Gao, right.

He­len H. Richard­son, Den­ver Post file

Jas­mine Kong tries a para­sol at the Colorado Dragon Boat Fes­ti­val in 2016.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.