As every good Milwaukeean knows, summer brings celebrations of music, culture and drinking that give us the nickname “The City of Festivals”.  Perhaps a lesser known festival, but none-the-lesser fun, is the annual Dragon Boat Festival held in the Veteran’s Park Lagoon.  Hosted by the Milwaukee Chinese Community Center, the fest features races, culture, food and drink. As a racing participant or simply a bystander (entrance is free!) there’s plenty to enjoy and proceeds are donated to the Ronald McDonald House.

The Dragon Boats

Dragon Boat competition. All photos by Erin Bayliss.

Dragon Boat competition. All photos by Erin Bayliss.

So what’s a dragon boat?  Dragon boats are traditional Chinese boats designed to resemble a dragon.  Paddlers are seated in rows of two, a sweeper is located in the back, and in the front sits your team caller who keeps time on a drum and shouts at the people who get distracted looking at other boats (it’s all about unison, eyes on your own boat!)

The Festival

Participants in the race are required to arrive at 7 am.  This is rough, especially on a Saturday, but with some coffee, the spectacular morning light, and some pre-race competitive jitters even the most hungover Millennial can manage.

Morning light over the Veteran's Park Lagoon.

Morning light over the Veteran’s Park Lagoon.

After the qualifying races, participants are treated to the opening ceremony with cultural performances including a dragon dance.

Dragon dance.

Dragon dance.

After the cultural show and team introductions, a free lunch of local Asian cuisine is served.

Traditional Chinese character names.

Traditional Chinese character names.

Wonderful, delicious, FREE FOOD!  There are also vendor tents offering traditional and non-traditional Asian souvenirs, snacks, and drinks, including Miller Coors (as they were a sponsor).

These are my coworkers: Team ROKit Boat.

These are my coworkers: Team ROKit Boat.

The Races

Dragon Boat racing is a blast. You shout the entire time as you count and paddle – rather, get splashed – in unison with your teammates. Most teams consisted of enthusiastic novices, but there were a couple of club teams that were fantastic to watch.

And fret not if you lose, there are additional achievements to win.  For example, my team did not receive a gold medal (…or silver, or bronze…), but we did manage to get the exact same time down to a millisecond for our first two races – so cheers to consistency!

When summer 2016 rolls around, bug your boss to sign your office up and enjoy one of the more unique fests Milwaukee has to offer.

Veteran's Park Lagoon, calm before the dragons arrive.

Veteran’s Park Lagoon, calm before the dragons arrive.