This morning Whirl and I took the El down to Chinatown to watch the Dragon Boat Races off Ping Tom Park. This was the ninth year for the Race. It’s presented by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in cooperation with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District. We’ve never attended them before. It’s quite an event, and I had a fun time trying to capture some of the excitement with photographs.
I had a number of questions about the sport, how the tournament is structured. What the rules are. And several of the spectators were more than happy to explain what was happening. While most of the teams competing today were company teams put together to raise money for Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Culture and Diversity, I was intrigued to learn that there are professional Dragon Boat teams. And when we saw a couple of these teams take to the river, the difference in skill and technique was easy to discern. They knew what they were doing and were serious about doing it.
Teams were comprised of twenty one crewmen: eighteen paddlers, a drummer, a steersman and a flag puller. The tournament began with a series of matched time trials that fed into a seeded elimination bracket. The course was a 1000 yard strait stretch of the south branch of the Chicago River. A typical race lasted about a minute and a half. I was most intrigued by the flag puller. The flag puller is a special crew position aboard the dragon boat. The flag puller rides aboard near the decorated dragon head, out of the way of the drummer. The race is concluded when the flag puller successfully grabs the float flag at the finish line. The flag puller must not miss pulling the flag, otherwise the boat is disqualified. Fellow spectators told me that the flag puller position is called “the monkey.”