DRAGON BOAT RACES:
Philadelphia has hosted numerous dragon boat races, including an annual Southeast Asian Dragon Boat Festival based at Penn’s Landing. In 2017 we’re shifting to the Cooper River in Camden County, New Jersey, and re-casting the event as the Cambodian Water Festival.
Dragon Boat teams consist of 20 paddlers, seated in pairs. They face forward as opposed to crew in which rowers have their backs to the finish line. A drummer helps set the rhythm so that the paddlers work in unison. Teamwork is essential in this sport, along with strength and endurance. Both single and mixed-gender teams compete. The boats are long and narrow, shaped and painted to represent dragons or sea serpents.
Dragon Boating is such great fun that it has become one of the world’s fastest growing water sports. Organizations in more than 40 countries are members of the International Dragon Boat Federation.
Stories of dragon boating’s origins in China abound. Over the centuries, complex dragon boating traditions developed in a number of other places as well, including Cambodia.
CAMBODIAN WATER FESTIVAL
Bon Om Touk – The Water Festival – is an annual national event in Cambodia, dating back to the 12th century. A main element of the festivities is a race of spectacularly-decorated dragon boats. Villages from all over the country train teams who spend months preparing for the high-profile competition that takes place in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh. The Water Festival in Cambodia celebrates the end of the rainy season.
There are about 10,000 Cambodians living in and around Philadelphia. Many arrived here following a civil war and genocide in their homeland in the 1970s. Three generations of Cambodian-Americans now call this region home. They’ve re-created valued traditions here, including dragon boat racing, and, beginning in 2017, the Water Festival as well. With traditional music, dance and games, an a wide selection of vendors offering a rich variety of foods, both savory and sweet, as well as souvenirs of all sorts, the Water Festival welcomes everyone of all backgrounds to join in a day of community fun.