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World Dragon Boat Festival begins this week in Sarasota

This is the first time the boats have hit the water since 2019 due to COVID-19.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Dragons will appear in Sarasota's Nathan Benderson Park waters this week — but not the fire-breathing kind, the boat kind. 

The 13th International Dragon Boat Festival Club Crew Worlds kicks off Monday at the park. The Sarasota-Brandon championship marks the IDBF CCWC's debut in the United States, as well as the first since 2019 due to COVID.

The event is free for the public, and parking on Regatta Island is $15 a day. 

The IDBF is an international non-profit world organization for dragon boating, as well as other paddle sport activities, according to its site. It was founded in 1991 in Hong Kong by the Governing Associations of Australia, the People's Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Norway, the Republic of Philippines, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.  

You might be wondering what dragon boat racing is. 

The sport has ancient Chinese origins with cultural and religious traditions of "strengthening the bonds of friendship that unite those who practice it." It was also thought to bring good luck to the next crop season. Today, it's a fast-growing water sport. 

The boats are similar to canoes. They're large and ornately decorated with carved dragon heads and tails. The crews of about 16 sit in pairs and use paddles to race.

The NBP will host clubs from around the world. The world-renowned paddling and aquatics facility is no stranger to dragon boat racing as it's a part of the park's regular programming, according to the CCWC site

Spectators can enjoy watching the race with live music and a beer garden starting Tuesday at 9 a.m.

To learn more about the event, you can download programs here.

To see Regatta Island hours and race start times visit here

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