Dragonboats. Paddles flashing in tempo, drums beating, water splashing, crowds cheering … it could’ve been so amazing.
Cameron and I heeded my own advice and headed down to False Creek for this year’s Dragonboat Festival. We’d watched teams training over the last couple of months. We’d talked about races. I’d checked out the web site, and figured that it would be a fun way to spend an afternoon.
It probably was, for the racers. I’m pretty certain that it was. Watching them was for me, inspiring. They’d cheer together, sit in two neat rows and practice together, jump up and down before a race to get in the spirit.
Beyond that, the festival itself was bland, and left me with a strong feeling of, “This could’ve been so much more!”
The ‘festival’ grounds were geared strongly towards food. There were a few booths for other things, like Shaw Cable (which had an inconceivably long line up to get in to), and companies selling gear for paddlers. It felt like it was a festival set up for people who had to be there anyway, the racers and their friends and families.
If it’s working for them, I suppose that’s what matters.
To make it into a family-oriented cultural event that draws crowds to compete with Car Free day or Greek Day in Kits, where you see streets thick with people, it needs to have more.
I’m not asking for a lot.
How about a display illustrating the legend(s) behind the Dragonboat festivals? It’s all written on the web page, so it’s just a matter of making the display.
How about a dragonboat for people to see up close? Maybe even set up so kids can get into it and pretend to try it out? Children get into things they can see, touch, and experience up close. Even better if they can play on them and pretend they’re involved. Adults might get a glimpse of how hard it is to DO this thing. All paddlers must be in synch to get the boat moving quickly – we saw evidence of that as one boat veered far, far, far off course.
Maybe a display about how the races work, how long they are, what’s the average time? Winning time last year? Information about the races – is this qualifying for anything further on? What prizes are they paddling for, if any? Adults and older kids want to know these details to give them a frame of reference. Knowing that the teams are aiming for a goal beyond this event also helps motivate people to cheer.
One of the traditional stories of the Festival’s origins has to do with a famous poet. Where are his poems? Surely they’re out there and available.
These things cost money? Of course they do. So did the e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s electronic display (roughly the size of my livingroom floor I’m guessing) showing garbage? What I saw wasn’t even ads or schedules, and it wasn’t effectively placed. That, let me tell you, must have cost money.
Why bother doing these things? Well, as I said, if it’s working for you then don’t change it. But if you want to attract more people, get people returning year after year, get people excited about the event? Then do something more for the people other than provide food sales.
It goes beyond keeping crowds coming. Keep people there, let them see, touch, and feel, and they’ll be inspired. Think you have enough racers at a thousand and a bit? Think beyond that. You have the chance to touch and influence the next generation. I see on the website that there are opportunities for people to just show up and learn how to paddle throughout the summer. That’s fabulous – why not mention that in an obvious, BIG way at the festival? This would capture the impetus of inspired festival-goers and perhaps boost numbers quickly. Even if only a small percentage continue next year and join in seriously, I would think that people who gave it a go for fun might be more inclined to come back next year to the festival.
The Dragonboat Festival had the chance to grab at least one little boy’s attention and imagination on Saturday, and pretty much flopped. Sure, he later excitedly told his Granna about the boats and how they had dragon heads and tails … but that was nothing compared with the excitement he shows towards kayaking. He’s been IN a kayak (on dry land), handled the paddles, can imagine himself doing it.
I know my son. Had there been anything physically THERE to hold his attention, he would have wanted to stay. As it was, he wanted desperately to touch a paddle. We chased several teams in vain – no we didn’t bother teams immediately about to race, this was in the ‘festival’ area – and finally found a friendly group as we were leaving. He really wanted to see a boat up close, but there were none to be found. He happily watched one race, then I forced him to stick around for another. At that point, I had had enough.
Give people physical, related things to see, touch, and do, and they will stick around. Sticking around means they’ll spend money. Spending money means your sponsors are happy, and you make money too most likely.
Okay. Enough complaining. The event was free. It was a pleasant diversion for a little bit. Then we went into Science World.