The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is dedicated to the state’s Asian Pacific American citizens, honoring their accomplishments and culture. The festival returns this weekend for its 19th year.

“It was started by three founders, Ding Wen Hsu, Howie Solow and John Chin. They got together, and they had noticed that in Colorado, the Pan-Asian communities here were small but mighty, and we have a lot that we contribute to Colorado,” says Sara Moore, executive director of the Dragon 5280 organizers. “They wanted to find a way to bring not only the Pan-Asian communities together, but also the general public.

“They decided, ‘What better way to bring people together than through friendly competition through sport?’”

This year, the festival honors Vietnamese culture and the Chinese year of the pig. During opening ceremonies, a dragon puppet snakes through the crowd to bring luck to the competitors, vendors and performers. Then Buddhist monks bless the boats, while special guests use paint to dot the dragons’ eyes and nostrils and awaken the creatures’ senses.

Flag-catching and Hong Kong- style boats are in two divisions. The flag-catching style is “a little more recreational and a little more fun,” while the Hong Kong style is more competitive, Moore says.

The Hong Kong boats are lighter, without a huge dragon head and dragon tail, she says.

At 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, racers will take to the lake, competing in 250- and 500-meter competitions. But the festival is about more than boats.

“There’s something at the festival for everyone, and we’re very family friendly. We are open to the public. It’s free admission, and we do have beverages for sale. We also have three big food courts where you can try over 14 different cuisines,” says Moore.

Children can participate in DragonLand, the festival’s all-ages educational section. They can learn to build a Hawaiian kite or blast off on the bungee trampoline. Bringing only adults? Consider heading to the MillerCoors Beer Garden, where you can enjoy live music with adult beverages.

Gateway Village showcases the food, arts and fashion of the Far East. Visitors can marvel at the tea ceremony, then enjoy delicious food . There’s a spicy Vietnamese noodle-eating contest and an opportunity to make spring rolls.

For a souvenir, visit the Vietnamese fashion show’s selfie booth or head to the marketplace for jewelry, art, henna and more.

“We actually coined the terms Particip-Asian and Edu-tainment. So with all of our performances, we try to channel that. We invite all the attendees who are watching a particular performance to come up and join us,” Moore says.

This nonprofit event runs for one weekend only, and more than 100,000 attendees are expected. Parking is available at the Auraria campus, with shuttles to the festival running throughout both days.

“We brand ourselves the hottest festival of the summer, figuratively and literally, it is very hot the last weekend in July. Make sure you stay hydrated, bring some sunscreen, and be ready to be out in the sun seeing amazing dragon boat races, then seeing over 80 different performances on four different stages,” says Moore.

Kate Powell, The Gazette,

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