The dragons will be back in the water on Saturday, April 28, for one of the area’s most colorful spectacles, the Saint Martin’s Dragon Boat Festival. The event, now in its 13th year, will welcome 48 Northwest teams at Olympia’s Port Plaza for intense but friendly competition between dragon boat teams. The festival serves as a fundraiser for the Saint Martin’s Office of International Programs and Development, which welcomes students from around the world to the University and helps to foster cultural exchange and education.
Dragon boat races lead off the Saturday morning of a South Sound weekend filled with extraordinary entertainment. All festival activities are free and family-friendly. Other weekend highlights in downtown Olympia include Arts Walk, Procession of the Species, and the Olympia Farmer’s Market. Making it a springtime destination weekend, many stay overnight and enjoy the great activities available in Thurston County, including wine, beer and coffee tasting, paddle boarding and kayaking, shopping, and hiking in the famed Capitol State Forest.
More than 1,200 participants are expected to take part in the festival’s dragon boat races and nearby multicultural performances.
Dragon boats have been raced for some 2,000 years in China and East Asia. While the tradition’s origins are obscured by time, the most popular legend states that dragon boat races commemorate the fishermen who paddled their boats on the waters of China’s Miluo River in search of the body of exiled statesman-poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in despair over the human suffering and political corruption of his time. Today, dragon boat races are a way of celebrating community and culture.
The Dragon Boat Festival begins at 9 a.m. with welcoming remarks by Saint Martin’s University President Roy Heynderickx, Ph.D., and Honorary Festival Chair, Secretary of State Kim Wyman, followed by the “Dotting of the Eye” ceremony and a traditional blessing of the dragon boats. Races begin at 9:30 a.m., with competition between paddling teams drawn from Northwest schools and universities, government, community organizations and businesses. The final heats of the race will commence at 4 p.m., followed by a closing awards ceremony.
Between heats, race-goers can enjoy live performances that will take place at the Port of Olympia Plaza stage.
The Dragon Boat Festival has been a natural outgrowth of Saint Martin’s educational and cultural exchanges with China, which began in 1995. Each year, China is a popular destination for University faculty members teaching business, accounting and general education and for students participating in China study tours and internships in Shanghai and Hong Kong. This spring, 16 students from China are part of the University’s student body.
“The Dragon Boat Festival is not just a Saint Martin’s event, it is a community event! It’s a fun day filled with many family-friendly and cultural activities. I encourage everyone to come,” says Josephine Yung, one of the festival’s founders and the University’s vice president of international programs and development.
The Dragon Boat Festival welcomes the support from organizations throughout the region. Sponsors are the Port of Olympia, the Cities of Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater, Thurston County, Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Squaxin Island Tribe, Capital Mall, Capitol City Press, Olympia Federal Savings and Olympia Orthopaedic Associates.
Opportunities to participate as a team or act as a festival volunteer are still available. For more information about Saint Martin’s Dragon Boat Festival, visit www.stmartin.edu/dragonboat.