Dragon Boat Festival brings dragons, Asian culture to Irving

Dragons glided across the waters of Lake Carolyn during the annual DFW Dragon Boat, Kite and Lantern Festival held on Sunday, May 21 at the Las Colinas Urban Center.

Sponsored by the non-profit Marco Polo World Foundation, the event promotes intercultural understanding through the sharing of activities such as Dragon Boat racing, kite flying, and a Chinese lantern riddle. The Dragon Boat festival is the foundation’s biggest outreach.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the boat races, where teams of 20 competed in rowing 40-foot long “Dragon Boats” across a 250-meter course on the lake. Diana Wang Madsen, the founder and president of the Marco Polo World Foundation, moved to the US from China in 2001. When she first arrived in Irving, she decided to bring Dragon Boats to DFW and specifically to Lake Carolyn.

“I saw the lake and thought it was a wonderful idea,” Madsen said. “I thought if I can bring the Dragon Boats racing here, it would be great because it’s so pretty here.”

She added that the lake is smaller than most lakes used for Dragon Boat racing, but it works to their advantage.

“I know a lot of Dragon Boat races go to the bigger lake,” Madsen said. “But they’re so big, people cannot see [the boats] and that makes it less exciting. This is a great location for our event.”

Mike Kerkmann, the owner of Pan-Am Dragon Boats and program director for this year’s Dragon Boat races, explained while Dragon Boating has taken off in the U.S. over the last 20 years, the sport itself is actually more than 2,000 years old.

“When the Chinese started immigrating into Western countries in the 80s in a big way, they brought their culture with them,” Kerkmann said. “We have Halloween and Valentine’s Day [for example]. They have the Harvest Moon Festival, and they have the Dragon Boat Festival.”

Part of the reason Dragon Boating has become so popular in the West is because it provides a fun and unique team-building opportunity.

“All the right metaphors are there: you pull together and everybody’s got to be together in order to win,” Kerkmann said.

Brandon Roach and Shannon Luppino, personal trainers from Camp Gladiator, were part of a team consisting of other trainers, Kimberly-Clark employees and members of the Irving Fire Department. This was their first time competing in the Dragon Boat Races. Roach was happy to have the chance to work-out in a new and exciting way.

“It was a great workout” Roach said. “It was also kind of exciting seeing the crowds of people running through [the lake.] I’ve lived here for a year and haven’t gotten out on this water yet, so that was a lot of fun.”

Luppino enjoyed the teamwork and social aspects of the races.

“I think it was really cool to work out with a bunch of people I’ve never met before,” Luppino said. “We’re just in a boat, full of people of random occupations, and kind of all working together to achieve a goal.”

Kerkmann explained that people from all occupations and all walks of life were competing in the day’s races.

“Most of the teams here are novice, new corporate and community teams,” Kerkmann said. “Most people have never done it before and they’re representing their companies. We’ve got banks, insurance companies, accounting firms, law firms, all kinds of businesses here using this day as a sort of ‘company picnic’ and a corporate team-building opportunity.”

Although the Dragon Boats were the main attraction, there were also numerous other activities celebrating Asian culture. At the kite festival, professional and amateur flyers took to the skies to show off their favorite kites.

On stage, various acts performed traditional Asian songs and dances as well as put on a fashion show. Lion dancers and drummers paraded through the streets lined with vendors and crafts.

Madsen said events like the Dragon Boat Festival help people learn about many different cultures and illustrate the mission of the Marco Polo World Foundation.

“We are promoting culture and bringing everyone together,” Madsen said. “That’s our mission.”