Celebrate the Cumberland River Dragon Boat Festival


Photo courtesy the Cumberland River Compact.

Shirley Zhou

Now that everything is starting to settle down two weeks into the school year, it may be time to venture outside the Vandy bubble again. The 12th Annual Cumberland River Dragon Boat Festival, held on Sept. 8, is a great opportunity to have a memorable, dragon-filled day.

Dragon Boat competitions originated in China, and are essentially a type of paddling race. More than 2,300 years ago, people in China raced out in their fishing boats to save the great poet and patriot Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in Mei Lo River after his political reform failed. Gradually, boat-racing became a tradition and a form of amusement and continues to highlight the history and culture behind it.

In 2006, the Cumberland River Compact, a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the health and public access of the Cumberland River, brought Dragon Boat racing to Nashville. At its first event, 35 teams and over 800 paddlers participated. Eleanor Barbee, the Director of Operations at the Compact, said there would be about 1,000 paddlers competing this Saturday, including college students from schools such as Tennessee State University and Middle Tennessee State University.

Although Vanderbilt University doesn’t have team racing this year, it’s actually one of the sponsors of the event.

“Unfortunately, because of the summer break, the recruitment was a bit tough for Vanderbilt,” Barbee said. “But they’ve participated in the past, and we’d definitely love to see them paddle again in the future.”

The Dragon Boat Festival also has a fundraising component to raise money for river sustainability projects.

“All of our teams are encouraged to participate in the fundraising,” Barbee said. “Each team raises $100 each, which goes to support our work to keep our river and streams clean.”

According to the competition’s website, the race course is a 250-meter run between the Shelby Street walking bridge and the Woodland Street bridge.The festival itself starts at 10 a.m. and lasts till 4:30 p.m., ending with an award ceremony recognizing both race winners and spirited competitors

The competition is open to the public and welcomes all to come, cheer and enjoy a beautiful day by the river. For more information, don’t forget to check out the Cumberland River Compact’s website here.