Lake Arlington's surface ripples in the breeze as shouts, cheers, and drumbeats echo across its shores. Ornately painted boats, carved into the likeness of Chinese dragons, glide across the water to the rhythm of 40 paddles turning in unison. The male and female boaters at Chicago International Dragon Boat Festival split into four racing divisions and follow the roots of a traditional eastern sport as they paddle, drum, and steer in coordination with their teammates. Spectators view the proceedings from tiered grandstands, which enable them to see the full scope of the race without having to rent a jetpack. They can also revel at an outdoor beer garden, listen to live entertainment, and usher their kids to participate in interactive activities in the Dragon's Nest. Competitors plunge into challenge races to benefit causes such as public services and breast-cancer research and rush to complete the most pushups after the race during the Workout of the Dragons.
This year's event benefits the nonprofit organization Salute, Inc., whose staffers work to support soldiers and veterans through fundraisers. Great White North assembles the event in partnership with local Windy City Dragons, in an effort to pay it forward to local charities while spreading enthusiasm for the sport. Their staffers also design each boat, specializing in the crafting of ornate vessels bearing the likenesses of colorful Chinese dragons and glorious Burt Reynoldses.