Releasing the beast: SMP competes in annual Dragon Boat Race finals
NAHA CITY, OKINAWA, Japan -- Sirens blast and the crowd cheers as the rhythmic crash of a gong resonates through the air. Teams on intricately decorated longboats simultaneously row to the rhythm while speeding toward the finish line. The 41st annual Naha Dragon Boat Races have commenced!
Marines and sailors with the Okinawa Single Marine Program competed in the 41st annual Naha Dragon Boat Races, also known as Harii, 5 May at Tomari Port, Naha City, Okinawa.
A dragon boat is a human-powered watercraft originating from China, according to Satsuki Fraling, the SMP coordinator with Marine Corps Community Services. It became a tradition where fishermen took boats out to sea to pray for safe travels and health for the upcoming year. The tradition later evolved into a festival taking place on Okinawa.
More than 60 teams competed in the races, making a total of approximately 2,300 participants, according to Fraling, a Naha City, Okinawa native. Three teams, consisting of 32 people per boat, competed against each other in the 300-meter-long race.
The SMP dragon boat team was made up of approximately 44 Marines and sailors. They began practicing two months prior to the competition.
“We began practicing in early March,” said Fraling. “We practiced twice a week at White Beach on a smaller boat to get the (service members) used to the flow and the rhythm of rowing the boat.”
The races were open to all service members and their families, posing an opportunity to experience the culture of Okinawa while stationed in Japan, according to Lance Cpl. Kevin D. Jolly, a basic electrician with Facilities Engineering, Marine Corps Installations, Pacific-Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.
“This is the last time I will be able to participate in something like this,” said Jolly, an Evansville, Indiana, native who will be returning to the U.S. within the year. “I didn’t want to leave Okinawa without doing something to immerse myself in the culture and taking part in the unique experiences it has to offer.”
SMP was slated to participate in two races during the event, but winning their first race with a time of five minutes and 33 seconds, they earned a place to compete in a third race for the championship.
“The final race was a full energy and muscle,” said Jolly. “We worked together and we put everything into (the final race). We started strong, but the (Naha City Fire Department) won. They were strong and in good synchronization with each other.”
The teams didn’t race to win, according to Master Sgt. Jason A. Annis, data chief with Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The festive event was about tradition and teamwork.
“We all came out here to have fun,” said Annis. “We did win our first race, but we didn’t cheer or celebrate out of respect for the other teams. It was just about getting together, trying our best and having a good time competing.”