Every summer, dragons from all over the world glide through calm waters just outside of Ala Moana Beach Park. They’re not the fire-breathing type, however. These dragons come in the form of long canoe-like boats that originated in China and have since made their way around the world, to places like Colorado, New Zealand and Hawaii.

Dragons dash down waters off of Ala Moana Beach Park.

Dragon boating dates back more than 2,000 years ago and began as a way to protect Chinese fishing communities and to ensure their future prosperity. A festival happens on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, but Hawaii celebrates in July. Traditionally known as Duan Wu Jie (Mandarin) or Tuen Ng (Cantonese), the festivals have become so popular that they’re now simply known as the Dragon Boat Festival.

This year marks the Year of the Dragon. The festival in Honolulu included more than 40 dragon boat teams, including visiting ones from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Each team consisted of 16 paddlers, a drummer and a flag catcher and steersman. While a traditional festival includes rice, wine, colorful dances and fireworks, Hawaii’s version has taken on a more sports-like approach but is still very laid-back. In addition to the boating, Hawaii families can take part in beach volleyball or futsal (type of soccer) as well.

Hawaii’s Chinese Dragon Boat Festival began in 1996 after former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris visited Taipei and thought it’d be a good idea to bring the races here. Growing up in a Chinese-mix family, I learned that the sun, like the Chinese dragon, represent masculine energy. The moon represents feminine energy. That’s why the summer solstice is considered the peak for male energy.

Photo Credit: City and County of Honolulu

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