Houston Dragon Boat Races: Texas Teams & Youth Sports
HOUSTON DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL & GULF COAST REGATTA
by Bernadette Verzosa
Fifteen-year-old Lauren Miller takes her seat at the bow of her dragon boat. She is the drummer in charge of leading her teammates to the finish line. Twenty paddlers wait for her cues to stroke in synchrony. “It’s exciting. You set the whole pace for the boat so you get caught up in the race,” she says. “You can’t push the paddlers too fast. When they go too quickly, they don’t have enough energy to finish the race.”
The Bellaire High School sophomore is on the M.D. Anderson Cancer Slayers Dragon Boat team. She joined after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2011 and undergoing chemotherapy treatments at M.D. Anderson. “It provided a fun activity for me to do to forget about everything else for a momentary period of time,” she says.
Her mom, Debbie Miller, is the team captain. “When Lauren could not go to school because of her suppressed immune system, dragon boat practices allowed her to get back out with people and get out of the house and have normalcy,” she says. “The team gave us so much support through her treatments. It’s also fun to get out there and work together to accomplish a goal.”
FAMILY FUN AT DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL
The M.D. Anderson Cancer Slayers group is one of 25 teams competing at the 13th Annual Houston Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, May 4, at Allen’s Landing (1001 Commerce Street) in Downtown Houston. The dragon boats race down a 400-meter stretch of Buffalo Bayou.
The opening ceremony with lion dances and cultural fanfare starts at 8:30 a.m. Spectators can catch three dragon boats racing every 12 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Dragon boats are for everybody,” says Eve Ruhlman, Executive Director of Texas Dragon Boat Association. “It doesn’t take individual skill or strength. It takes working together as a team and paddling in sync.”
The festival features craft activities for kids and family-friendly performances. It focuses on a different country each year. This year, the spotlight is on Vietnam. “This is an opportunity to bring Asian art and culture to Houston with the lion dances, martial arts performances, Vietnamese cooking shows. It enables Houston to explore Asia without paying for an airplane ticket,” she says.
HISTORY, YOUTH TEAMS & HOUSTON CLUB SPORTS
The sport of dragon boat racing dates back 2,000 years in Southern China and can be traced to the ancient Olympiad games in Greece. The dragon boat is considered one of a family of traditional paddled long boats found throughout Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Today, people from more than 50 countries around the world enjoy the sport at recreational or competitive levels.
Here in Houston, many leisure club teams and professional travel teams practice year-round at Mud Lake in Clear Lake. They use dragon boats that are 40 feet long and 4 feet wide with spots for one drummer, one steersperson and 20 paddlers.
The Texas Dragon Boat Association stores the boats in a Kemah warehouse and hosts gatherings throughout the year. Its main event in the fall season is the Gulf Coast International Dragon Boat Regatta which is held at Brooks Lake in Sugar Land. The dragon boat teams race a 500-meter stretch. Twelve youth teams participate. Paddlers and drummers must be at least 12 years old.