Energy swirls in the parish office of Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Solomons. With only five days before the inaugural Solomons Island Dragon Boat Festival, staff is ready to see the paddles fly.
Bonnie Elward leads the chaos into a state of calm. Executive director of Southern Maryland Community Resources and festival steer person, Elwood acts with the fervor of a missionary for the hundreds of developmentally different individuals.
“I don’t have a child with disabilities,” she says. “But I have been given the gift to be in a position to advocate for these families and teach our communities to respect them and treat them with kindness and dignity.”
Dragon boat racing is the trending paddle sport worldwide. These long cigar-shaped boats come from Chinese religious observances. In modern times, the boats are a fun yet competitive spectacle with an ever-growing following.
Opening ceremonies the night of August 26 at Our Lady Star of the Sea include the traditional Dotting of the Eye, when each dragon’s eye is painted to give it sight and awaken its spirits. Tongues are painted so the dragons can breathe.
To add a little touch of Italy to the festivities, the Papal Fiat is on display 4-7pm on the church lawn. The Holy Father will only be there in spirit and cardboard-cutout likeness.
Also to enjoy are team villages plus a marketplace and food vendors along the Riverwalk. In the Dragonette Nest, children enjoy face-painting, dragon puppets and a scavenger hunt.
Over 20 teams of 16 costumed paddlers — plus a person to steer and a drummer to keep the pace — race in multiple heats on Saturday. The boats are supplied by 22Dragons, a dragon boat outfitter from Canada that equips several festivals along the East Coast, including the End Hunger races in North Beach.
Awards are presented for fastest team, most funds raised by a team and by an individual, best team costumes, best dressed drummer, best tent decorations and more.
Opening ceremonies, Friday 5:30pm, Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church; Saturday National Anthem & Color Guard 8:30am, races 9am, Vendor’s Village open 9am-4pm, shuttle service from Thomas Johnson Bridge, free: www.solomonsdragonboatfestival.com.