Off to the races for the Shoals Dragon Boat Festival

Arts & Entertainment Editor Alisha Lee

The annual Shoals Dragon Boat Festival is returning for another year of excitement. It will be held on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at McFarland Park in Florence and is still accepting new participants.

Each fall, the Shoals Dragon Boat Festival takes place encouraging people to participate in Dragon Boat races. Dragon Boat Racing is an increasingly popular sport that involves a large team of people who all play important parts in steering the long boats along a river.

Dragon boat racing began in China around 400 BC and later became a traditional part of the Tuen Ng Festival which honors Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese poet and political leader, according to

The Dragon Boat races involve different teams of around twenty people per team. Most of them are paddlers, while one keeps tempo and guides the team with a drum.

In order for the boats to move quickly and smoothly across the water, everyone on the team must work together. Each boat is typically made of wood and is beautifully painted with vibrant colors and images. The paddles for the boats are also highly decorated and covered in designs.

The Shoals area is an ideal place for this event. With McFarland Park already known for its wide open space and picture-worthy views, people can expect the Dragon Boat Festival to be a local success that could potentially attract interest beyond Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia.

New participants are still invited to sign up. More detailed information regarding pricing and other important requirements can be found on the Shoals Dragon Boat Festival Facebook page. On that page is a link to the website which provides registration and attendance information as well as a brief history of dragon boat racing.

Team practices and preparations will begin Sept. 9 and will end Sept. 13. The festivities will take place all day Saturday. Volunteers are also welcome to help with general set-up on Friday the 13th.

It takes several dozens of hands to prepare for a fun yet safe and family-friendly festival such as this. Different groups such as the UNA Rotaract Club will be volunteering to assist workers with the set-up as well as with the success of the festival itself. UNA junior and Rotaract Club member Keya Goodloe said she is excited about the overall experience of being out at a community event and seeing local people having a good time.

She believes that having annual cultural events like these in the Shoals area is very important since the area is growing and attracting many people from outside of the Shoals.

UNA Professor and Chair of the Department of Communications Butler Cain is also looking forward to attending the festival. After having attended for the first time last year as a participant in one of the boats, he said it was great to see people getting together for a fundraising activity that brought all kinds of people to the river.

“Being a member of the Rotary Club of Florence and being the adviser to the Rotaract Club at the University of North Alabama, it’s great just to participate in it and support something that I see does a world of good for a lot of people,” said Cain.

The Shoals Dragon Boat Festival also provides scholarships for students of the Lauderdale and Colbert County school systems, Northwest Shoals Community College students, and UNA transfer students. This is made possible by the Shoals Scholar Dollars Foundation Inc.

For more information on how to access these benefits and how to participate in the Dragon Boat Festival, visit the Shoals Dragon Boat Festival Facebook page, and click the link in the “About” section.