Dragon Boat Races 12.jpg (copy) 2017

Racers prepare to race at a previous Dragon Boat Festival event at Marine Stadium.

It's a clash of Chinese tradition and a fusion of different cultures — and organizers said that they wouldn't have it any other way.

That would be the 23rd annual Long Beach's annual Dragon Boat Festival, and it's happening next weekend, July 27 and 28, at Marine Stadium.

"It's really amazing seeing so many people embracing Dragon Boat racing," Dr. Howard Chen, International Collegiate Dragonboat Federation president and festival organizer, said. "People come from everywhere, from all different backgrounds, and they're celebrating tradition while making it a part of their own."

The international boat race is one of the largest dragon boat competitions in California. It hosts more than 150 teams from around the world, including teams from Long Beach, and Chen said that he and his team are dedicated to uniting athletes from around the world to embrace the boating sport, which embodies teamwork and unison, while commemorating ancient Chinese history.

That tradition dates back more than 2,400 years ago in 278 B.C. after the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and official for the Kingdom of Chu in China.

He was a minister during the Warring States period of the country, advising the king. However, his advice was not taken, and he was exiled from his home city. Over time, the difficulty in reconciling this fate tore at Yuan, and he ended up committing suicide by jumping off of a bridge into water.

And then as legend continues, the townsfolk who heard of Yuan's death rushed to the river to try to collect his body, preserving Yuan by slapping the water with paddles and blaring their drums to chase off any demons. They also threw rice into the river to feed Yuan in the afterlife. 

Dragon Boat races today, while paddling to the beat of a drum, honors that legend and the life of Yuan.

"This is a part of Chinese legend that so many people embrace, and it's so fascinating," Chen said. "This is where people make lifelong friends, enjoy their time and make add their own contributions to this very old tradition." 

Because of the sport's growth, the Long Beach event has become big enough to expand the categories.

"We had to get creative about how we categorized the races," Chen said. "We've had more than 200 teams competing before, and year after year we end up adding more categories."

This year, there are about 37 categories, Chen said, ranging from children's categories to high school to "Master" and then "Grand Master," which includes teams with members with ages ranging 50 to 60 years old.

And there's something special about hosting the event in Long Beach too.

"We have an advantage to being here in Long Beach," Chen said. "It's beautiful, you can be here for an entire weekend and find great places to see and eat just within walking distance, and you can't say that for every competition location."

Long Beach's  23rd annual Dragon Boat Festival is happening from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 27, through Sunday, July 28, at Marine Stadium, 5255 E. Paoli Way. The event is free to attend. 

For more information, go to lbdragonboat.com.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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