The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

IN PHOTOS: Dragons on the water

Dragons, zongzi, boba and more at Cumberland River.
Alice Tang
The opening ceremony of Nashville’s annual Dragon Boat Festival, as photographed on Sept. 23, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Alice Tang)

The Cumberland River Dragon Boat Festival returned for its 15th year in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 23. More than 30 teams competed in the dragon boat race, 24 of which were part of the brand-new recreational division. The festival took place along the Cumberland River and supports the Cumberland River Compact’s mission to confront water pollution along the waterway. 

According to Suchitthra Vasu for the Singapore Infopedia, this festival has origins in the ancient Chinese state of Chu, where the poet Qu Yuan drowned himself in a river out of grief. Locals searched for his body with their fishing boats. Though they failed, they continued each year to race their boats in honor of his life. Since then, dragon boat racing has spread across the world, but its ties to Chinese culture and tradition have also weakened. Likewise, last weekend’s race was primarily a fun rowing competition rather than a cultural celebration.

The event began at 10 a.m. CDT with an energetic dragon dance performance from the members of the Chinese Arts Alliance of Nashville. Performers snaked around the riverbank accompanied by music from traditional Chinese gongs, spreading the spirit of the benevolent dragon across the venue. Food vendors at the venue sold everything from the zongzi — traditional sticky rice dumplings commonly filled with either meat or red bean paste — to egg sandwiches. 

As defined by the International Dragon Boat Federation, the dragon boat — also known as the Long Zhou — is a long displacement boat that is traditionally designed and painted to mimic the features of a dragon. A Chinese-style drum is located at the bow where the drummer sits to keep the rhythm for rowers. The boat relies on the rowers to move the boat forward and is steered by a long oar near the stern. The races began with heats of four teams, with each heat lasting about a minute. 

Team spirit competitions began at 12:30 p.m. CDT, where teams danced, sang or enacted a skit to music in front of the crowd. The performances lasted for around a minute each and provided a fun way for teams to compete off the water.

The final races occurred after the team spirit competition. There were separate finals held for the competitive and recreational categories. After a long competition, the Mekong Dragons emerged as the champions for the competitive category, while the Nashville Paddle Company took home the trophy for the recreational category. 

The Dragon Boat Festival served as a chance for the Nashville community to celebrate a blend of Chinese tradition, sportsmanship and food.

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About the Contributors
Alice Tang
Alice Tang, Staff Photographer
Alice Tang (‘25) is from Columbia, Mo., and is majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in environmental and sustainability studies. She enjoys birdwatching and arts and crafts. You can reach her at [email protected].
Rachel Koh
Rachel Koh, Staff Photographer
Rachel Koh (‘27) is majoring in physics and computer science in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of The Hustler, you can find her obsessing over the squirrels, learning on Duolingo and folding tiny origami cranes. She can be reached at [email protected].
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