Where We Live: Dragon Boat Races

Race is during Portland Rose Festival

Dragon boats sit on the Willamette River, May 2017. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Dragon boat racing teams are out on the Willamette River practicing for one of the most popular events of the Portland Rose Festival.

Dragon boats are a historic part of the festival and a colorful part of where we live.

As many as 90 teams compete in the event that began in 1989.

“When people see the boats on the river in the spring, they kind of know that the Rose Festival is about to begin,” Race Director Tom Crowder says.

Teams practice for 10 weeks before the races in June. It’s hard work.

“The team has to be absolutely perfectly in sync, in order to be competitive,” Crowder says.

The dragon boat races are about more than team-building, competition and spectacle. They are also an important cultural exchange between Portland and Kaohsiung, Taiwan, a port city known for its lantern festival. It’s one of Portland’s nine sister cities throughout the world.

“We’ve developed a lot of friendships over the years, and we really enjoy going back each year, and seeing our friends,” Crowder says.

Portland’s eight dragon boats were built and painted in Kaohsiung. The first two in 1989 were gifts from the city. Today, they cost about $20,000 each.

The Rose Festival dragon boat races are Saturday, June 10 and Sunday, June 11 at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.