Saint Martin’s University Dragon Boat Festival Returns April 26


Submitted by Saint Martin’s University

dragon boat races olympiaMajestic dragon boats and a record-setting number of 42 local and regional teams of paddlers will return to Olympia Saturday, April 26, for a day of fun and fierce competition at the ninth annual Saint Martin’s University Dragon Boat Festival.

Approximately 5,000 people are expected to attend this year’s festival, which will take place 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Port Plaza of Olympia near the Marine Terminal. This is a beautiful location with views of the Washington State Capitol buildings and Olympic Mountains. The event site is downtown, near the Olympia Farmers Market and popular, local restaurants. The day-long event, presented by the University in cooperation with the Washington Dragon Boat Association, is free and open to the public.

Some 1,000 participants will paddle their way through the annual Dragon Boat Races as part of the day’s activities. The paddlers are members of teams from universities, high schools, school districts, government agencies, community organizations and local businesses, hailing from Seattle to Portland.

Dragon boat racing dates back to fourth-century China, commemorating famed poet Qu Yuan, who threw himself into the Milo River to protest the political turmoil and suffering of the people at that time. Today, dragon boat races are an opportunity to celebrate culture and community.

“Once again, the Dragon Boat Festival is proving to be an eagerly anticipated event for the University and surrounding communities,” says Josephine Yung, Saint Martin’s vice president of International Programs and 2012 Festival dancersDevelopment. “I’m sure everyone who plans to attend will not be disappointed because the festival has so many fun activities to offer.”

The Dragon Boat Festival is a multi-cultural event that started in 2006. The purpose of the festival is to raise cultural awareness, build a sense of community and provide a day of family-oriented, fun activities to South Sound residents. The festival was moved from Capitol Lake to the Port Plaza in 2010, drawing a lot of foot traffic from downtown Olympia and the adjacent Farmers Market.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, the festival was nearly canceled when sponsors of the event encountered difficulties in raising finances to support it. But with encouragement from Yung, Saint Martin’s students appealed to their families and friends for small cash donations that eventually netted them $25,000 to put toward the costs of the festival.

A major delight for festival participants is the distinctive dragon boats, which feature ornately carved dragon heads and weigh 500-800 pounds each. The hulls of the boats are painted with scales and the paddles used to steer the vessels symbolically represent claws. Every boat is constructed to contain 20 paddlers, as well as a steer person and a drummer who keeps the beat to help the paddlers work in unison. The paddle teams are divided according to skill level and include community, intermediate and recreational teams.

“Dragon boating is not a sport that’s built on brute force,” says Brother Ramon Newell, a monk at Saint Martin’s Abbey who annually serves as advisor and coach to various paddle teams. “It’s more about timing, technique, synchronization and people working together.”

dragon boat racesSaint Martin’s University has been actively involved in education and cultural exchanges with China since 1995. Each year, members of Saint Martin’s faculty travel to China to teach international business, accounting and general education courses. Saint Martin’s students regularly participate in China study tours. In addition, about 50 students from China are currently studying at Saint Martin’s University.

Following welcoming remarks at 9 a.m. by Saint Martin’s University President Roy Heynderickx, Ph.D., and Port of Olympia Commission President Bill McGregor, honorary chair of the Dragon Boat Steering Committee, the festival will kick off at 9:10 a.m. with the traditional “Dotting of the Eye” ceremony, a blessing of the dragon boats. The races will begin at 9:45 a.m. and will consist of three heats and three divisions.

In addition to the races, there will be Chinese traditional art demonstrations, culinary delights, martial arts performances and music. A lion dance will take place between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Other scheduled performers include the Taiko Drum Group from River Ridge High School; the Saint Martin’s University Soran Bushi Dancers; the Federal Way China Tai Chi Kung Fu Group; the Saint Martin’s University Hawaii Club and the Saint Martin’s University Dance Hip Hop Group.

The competitions will conclude at approximately 4 p.m., and the closing and awards ceremony will begin shortly after the races end.

Organizations supporting the Dragon Boat Festival are the Port of Olympia; the City of Olympia; 94.5 ROXY; the Academy of International Education (AIE); Saint Martin’s University Alumni Association; Associated Students of Saint Martin’s University (ASSMU); Access the USA LLC; Olympia Federal Savings; Thurston County Economic Development Council; Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation; Studio 1; and Capitol City Press.

Those who plan to attend the festival are requested to be mindful of parking and leave vehicles in locations designated for the Saint Martin’s University Dragon Boat Festival or in a public parking space. There is plenty of free street parking downtown that festival attendees can utilize. In addition, please consider using the Dash Shuttle for riding to the event.

For more information about the festival, visit  or contact the Office of International Programs and Development at 360-438-4504.


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