Summer is almost over! It’s a great time to enjoy the great outdoors while you still can.

There’s no shortage of ways to do that in Eau Claire. From walking the Chippewa River Trail to floating it, there are limitless ways to enjoy our beautiful city. Coming up this month, there’s a unique way to enjoy Half Moon Lake at Carson Park. On August 5 it will be time for the Annual Half Moon Dragon Boat Festival.

1. So I bet you’re wondering, just what is dragon boat racing?

Well, it’s an athletic and cultural tradition dating back to ancient China. As the International Dragon Boat Federation notes, “In ancient China the Dragon Boat was used for religious purposes as a way of appeasing the rain gods.” These races are also held in honor of the great poet warrior, Qu Yuan. “To commemorate him the people began to organize Dragon Boat Races in his memory. Since that time over 2000 years ago, Dragon Boat Racing has become a major part of Chinese culture, representing patriotism and group integrity.”

2. Yes, the boats are decorated beautifully, but they aren’t necessary like that to please the eye.

The dragon has deep cultural significance in China. Per the International Dragon Boat Federation, “The Dragon has a very symbolic meaning for the Chinese. A classic dragon has the head of an ox; a deer's antlers; the mane of a horse; the body and scales of a snake; the claws of an eagle and the tail of a fish. With its strength and power the Dragon rides the clouds in the sky and commands the wind, mist and rain. The Dragon Boat is deeply embedded in China's 'Dragon' culture, with each Boat having an ornately carved dragon's head at the Bow and a tail in the Stern. The Hull is painted with the Dragon's scales. The paddles symbolically represent the claws.”

3.  So who races these boats?

In dragon boat racing, teams consist of a team of paddlers (8-10 on a small boat and between 18-20 on a standard size boat) and one drummer and an individual to steer at the helm. Race distances can range anywhere from 200-2000+ meters. The winning boat is the one whose nose crosses the finish line first. For the Half Moon Dragon Boat Festival, competitors will race across a 250-meter stretch of Half Moon Lake.

4. The funds from the event go towards a great cause!

The Eau Claire event serves as a fundraiser for the Mayo Clinic Hospice program. Hospice provides in home care for patients who are terminally ill and no longer wish to pursue aggressive medical treatment. Some of the things they provide include: visiting nurses, respite care and emotional support. So the Half Moon Dragon Boat Festival allows participants to take part in an ancient Chinese cultural tradition and raise money for a good cause. Even if you’re not up to paddling, donate to a team and come and cheer them on.