News: SMP Marines participate in 37th annual Naha Dragon Boat Race
Story by Lance Cpl. Jovane Holland
OKINAWA, Japan - Spectators watched in awe as Marines, their arms raised in triumph, glided past the finish line atop a towering, ornate dragon.
Approximately 85 Okinawa-based Marines joined the 37th annual Naha Dragon Boat Race at the Naha New Port Wharf May 5. Their participation was organized by the Single Marine Program.
Despite tumultuous weather, 63 teams, more than 2,000 participants and thousands of spectators turned out for the races, traditional Okinawan food, games and entertainment.
The Dragon Boat Races, called haarii, which means dragon in Chinese, are held in May each year at Naha New Port Wharf. This popular event began in the 14th Century as a way to honor the god of the sea.
Back then, villages competed against each other in boats decorated with dragon heads and tails. Today, the teams consist of Okinawan companies, schools, universities and senior citizens, as well as U.S. Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy and Army personnel, making it a truly international event.
Service members have participated in the century-old event since 1973.
This year’s races marked the SMP’s 14th year participating in the annual races.
The SMP volunteers were divided into a male and female team of 32 members each, both bearing the name Team Devil Dog.
The teams began practicing in early February at venues like White Beach, learning the basic strokes and mechanics of rowing.
“Rowing always seems fun when you first start out, but the practices get harder and harder as you go along,” said Lance Cpl. Yamile Brito, the Camp Courtney SMP president and a rower with the team. “It’s a lot harder than you would think because we’re using muscles some of us didn’t even know we had.”
Both the male and female teams won their first heats, securing a place in the finals.
In the end, the male Devil Dog team won 3rd place overall in their group.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Randy Mitchell, program director for the SMP and pace setter for Team Devil Dog, said both teams worked hard and brought their best to the competition.
“I’ve participated in the dragon boat races for the past three years, and these are by far the best teams we’ve had,” said Mitchell. “I’m proud of the fact that they’ve taken the chance to interact with the Okinawan community and experience and participate in the culture.”
For Brito, participating in the races entails more than just showing up to race.
“Coming out and racing is about so much more than mingling with the Okinawan community,” said Brito. “Participating shows our support and demonstrates our desire to understand their traditions.”