Both competitive and just-for-fun teams will participate in the Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, July 27, at Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights.
Teams can elect to practice ahead of time -- or not.
"You paddle your heart out; it's pretty simple," said Sue Chang, who is marketing the event.
Last year 25 boats entered the competition, and this year organizers are hoping for 30 or 40, Chang said. Spectators, who attend without charge, numbered at least 1,000.
Each team has 16-20 paddlers plus a drummer who sets the beat. The organizers provide the boat with its dragon head, paddles, life jackets and a person called the steerer.
Registration is about $945 per team, and each year the money goes to a different charity. This year's charity is Salute, Inc., the Arlington Heights-based organization that helps military veterans and their families.
Each race is 500 meters and takes teams about two to three minutes to finish, she said. Teams participate in more than one race.
While the organizers encourage corporations to sponsor teams and like to see groups from the same industries compete against each other, teams can sign up on their own.
The sport has caught on with breast cancer survivors, and teams of survivors will come from Indiana and Wisconsin, said Chang. This connection is so big in some areas that teams of survivors actually compete against supporters, she said.
This festival is sponsored by Great White North, a Toronto-based group, and the local sponsor is TAP-Chicago, Chicago Taiwanese American Professionals.
Chang attended a race in Chicago's Chinatown about a decade ago and almost immediately joined a team. Now she races competitively and is part of a team that went to Hong Kong last year to participate in the world championships. That competition is held in different cities every other year.
At Lake Arlington races will go from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be music and food vendors on site.
Why Lake Arlington? The Windy City Dragons, a team Chang is on, practices there. But she admits they would love to some day stage an event on Lake Michigan.
International standards, including the boats and the mechanism for certifying times in this event differentiate it from the community events held in the Fox River and Chicago's Chinatown.
Dragon boat racing started at least 2,000 years ago in China, and in recent years its popularity has spread throughout the world.
"Once you try dragon boat racing I guarantee you'll be a fan for life," said Chang.