Every July for the last 14 years, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival has brought a fun tradition to Denver. Dragon boat racing originated in ancient China, and involves elaborate 40-foot boats crewed by 18 paddlers, and a drummer, a steersman, and “flag-catcher.” At the Colorado Dragon Boat festival, teams race boats like these around Denver’s Sloan Lake.
The races feature several different categories for youth and adults, as well as two different styles of boat: Hong Kong and Taiwan style. Teams from all over the country compete at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, while newbies have the chance to take part in races designed especially for novices to the sport.
The Festival is much more than just spectacular boat races, though. The mission of the festival planners is to spread awareness of Pan-Asian culture, and to build bridges between the diverse communities that live in Denver. As part of this vision, the Festival features two “Taste of Asia” food courts, where visitors can sample cuisine from all over Asia provided by local vendors. The huge Asian Marketplace offers a vast range of crafts, artwork, souvenirs, and fashions from cultures throughout the Pacific and Asia.
There are also stages where some of Denver’s top multicultural talent acts perform for the crowds. Traditional songs and dances from Thailand, China, and elsewhere have been featured here. Contemporary acts are also a huge draw, including those by Asian-American artists in rock, hip-hop, country, blues, and beyond.
More intimate introductions to Pan-Asian culture are available in the Festival’s “Gateway to Asia” program. This provides smaller venues where spectators can enjoy traditional song and dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, as well as exhibits on arts like Hawai’ian leis, Thai fruit-carvings, and Japanese flower arrangements. Even kids get a special place at “Dragonland,” where they can have fun making dragon masks and learning traditional crafts such as origami.
The first Colorado Dragon Boat Festival took place in 2001, when 15,000 attendees showed up – twice as many as the planners were expecting! Since then, the festival has grown into a major attraction in Denver, drawing over 100,000 guests and dozens of vendors annually. In future years, the Festival appears primed to expand even more, attracting boat-racing teams, musical acts, and tourists from all over the world.