Warm weather, clear skies and the first large dragon boat competition in Santa Clarita since 2019 drew large crowds to Castaic Lagoon last weekend.
The initial press release for the event noted that the festival was expecting approximately 700 racers, vendors and spectators. From the look of the crowd, it seemed as though their estimate was on point.
Nella Fronti, director of the Dragon Boat Festival, said she was thrilled to see this many people following two years of being unable to hold the festival.
“It’s great. It feels great. This is the first year that everybody’s been driving back to the sport,” said Fronti. “After two years… we feel like we came with everything. Everything we got, we put it out there.”
Paul Lin, a member of the “Dragon Eyes” team and event organizer for the Castaic Lake Dragon Boat Club, said they learned a lot since their last event three years ago and wanted to make this event more enticing for paddlers of different skill levels and for spectators.
“We wanted to have different skill levels. So, we have a mixed team, we have a community team, we have a competitive team, and a corporate team which is from a company,” said Lin. “So… we’ve learned a lot from the other years. And we wanted to make it friendly for paddlers and participants that come to watch.”
Tents filled with awaiting teams, vendors, food and even a massage table hugged the cove on the south end of the lagoon where dragon boats were launched.
Dragon boats require 20 paddlers for the boat to move forward. The sport dates back 2,500 years to China and supporters say it’s now one of the fastest-growing water sports in the world.
The festival held 50 different races with different divisions based on skill level or team type.
Teams from all over the Southwest United States and California came to participate, with some coming from as far as Arizona. One Arizona-based team is composed of breast-cancer survivors. Clad in pink, this team is something special, said Lin.
“So they’re basically women that actually were able to beat cancer, and they’re paddling,” said Lin. “There’s two teams with that and we have a ceremony during lunch with the rose ceremony [where we] throw roses into the water and we have a song, and cherish them and remember them.”
Melissa Adams, captain of the team, called the Phoenix Desert Dragons, said she initially joined the team after seeing a postcard for it at her doctor’s office.
“There’s just so many layers to having a cancer diagnosis and when you get into the boat, it’s like none of that exists,” said Adams. “We know that we’re all there in the boat for a specific reason. And we know what that reason is, but we don’t necessarily talk about it and it’s a place for us to just let go of that and you know, find some solace on the water… It’s a place where cancer really doesn’t have a place.”
The Desert Dragons ended up taking second place in their division.
To see the race results and for more information on the Castaic Lake Dragon Boat Club, visit: bit.ly/3aJMv5E.