True to its name, the dragon boat is decorated with traditional Chinese depictions of dragons. Each team consists of around 22 members, including the drummer (or caller) who faces the team and leads them across the water. True to its name, the dragon boat is decorated with traditional Chinese depictions of dragons. Each team consists of around 22 members, including the drummer (or caller) who faces the team and leads them across the water. Each team consists of around 22 members, including the drummer (or caller) who faces the team and leads them across the water. (Photo: Courtesy Dragon Boat Israel)

Dragon boating leads to fiery competition

An ancient Chinese sport turned international pastime is captivating onlookers this weekend.

It's summer! You know what that means: bring out the dragons!

This weekend, paddlers from around the world are coming to Israel to take part in Dragon Boat Israel, a joint Canada-Israel initiative. Dragon boat racing is a competition in which different teams paddle long boats, often decorated with dragons.

dragon boatThe first day of the festival is for training, and the second day is all about competition. (Photo: Yaron Eini)

The sport originated in China 2,500 years ago when villagers participated in these festivals to celebrate summer rice planting. The first Western dragon boat race occurred in San Diego in 1983, and the sport has been gaining popularity worldwide ever since. Some competitive paddlers train all year in paddling machines or pools.

boatThe inaugural Israeli festival featured 20 Israeli teams and 19 teams from abroad. (Photo: Nicola Hamer)

The Israeli festival starts with a gala dinner on Thursday evening to welcome international paddlers. The dinner alone may be worth the trip: it takes place at Hamat Gader, a gorgeous spa built on top of hot springs in the mountains. The festival website encourages paddlers to arrive early to take a relaxing soak in the pools before enjoying an evening of Israeli food, hospitality and entertainment.

Then it's paddling time! Forty teams and six boats race down a 330-yard course at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, a popular tourist destination.

boatThe competition raises money for charitable organizations. (Photo: Hatem Dwahre)

Even those who don't race take part in the festival. In addition to watching the boats, fans enjoy the festival's food vendors, marketplace and activities. Paddlers get to rest, relax and socialize in a "team village" between races.

If you ask us, it's not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Dan Greenberg
The race course runs parallel to the lake shore, giving spectators a great vantage point. (Photo: Dan Greenberg)

boatFor the second annual Dragon Boat Israel Festival in 2014 about 700 people gathered in Tiberias, Israel. (Photo: Nicola Hamer)

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