The time is here for the 17th Annual Sabani Race! The 2016 Sabani Race will be held over two days from June 25-26. Traditional Okinawan boats, Sabani were formerly the primary means of transportation between and used for fishing throughout the Ryukyu Islands. Sabani are similar to dragon boats in their long and sturdy wooden design as well as their use of oar-based propulsion. However, sabani differ from their more well-known variant in that sabani also have a sail. The sail brings a whole additional set of dynamics into the vessel’s operation which provides for a very exciting race. While sabani sport a sail, they have neither a keel nor a rudder, and the oarsman furthest aft works his paddle to steer the vessel.
Zamami Village holds a large-scale sabani race every year. The Zamami series of sabani races was established as a part of commemoration for the G8 Kyushu-Okinawa Summit 2000 that took place the same year. Organizers plan for the event to match the beginning of summer and the end of the rainy season. Bright sunshine, blue skies, turquoise waters, white sands, and bright green islands provide the backdrop for over forty teams of traditional Okinawan boats to sail and row their way throughout this paradise. The Sabani Race offers spectators a beautiful and rare scene only to be found in Zamami and only occurring once every year.
The first race is the Maririn Cup on June 25. The Maririn Cup is a short exhibition style of race between Zamami’s many islands. The race begins at 10:30 in the water off the coast of the Statue of Marilyn on Zamami Island. The top finishers generally arrive at the beach in little over an hour.
As exciting as the Maririn Cup might be, the main Sabani Race takes place the following day on June 26. One of the most spectacular scenes of the weekend is the lead up to and actual start of the Main Race. The forty or so participating teams line their vessels up over the length of Zamami’s most well known and picturesque beach, Furuzamami. Spectators and competitors surround the boats in anticipation of the starting signal, upon which the seamen of the day make a running-push to thrust their sabani into the water before hopping in and sailing off. Most teams also have a support vessel into which the remaining team members scramble so as to catch up to the competing watercraft.
Racers forge their way at sea over almost forty kilometers from Zamami Port all the way to the waters just off the coast of Naha City‘s Tomari Port on the main Okinawa Island. The over four-hour battle wrings participants for all their might forcing even the best teams to employ numerous oarsmen and a fully-equipped support vessel. What’s most amazing is the annual participation of a team comprised entirely of Zamami Village’s middle-school students. The young seafarers practice every evening for months leading up to the main event, and the experience likely becomes one from which they find strength, motivation, and confidence for years to come. The event might even act as a coming of age for many of the students as most of them will leave the island and their families to continue their education at high schools on Okinawa Island.
While the main race does spend less time in the waters immediately around Zamami Village’s islands, spectators can still watch a portion of the action, namely the running start and the sabanis’ departure from Furuzamami Beach.
17th Annual Sabani Race (2016)
- June 25 (Maririn Cup) and June 26 (Main Race)
- Maririn Cup starts at 10:30 in waters next to Marilyn’s Statue on Zamami Island
- Maririn Cup ends at Furuzamami Beach
- Starting Ceremony (8:30)
- Furuzamami Beach start at 9:00
- The Main Race ends in the waters off Okinawa Island
- There will be an awards ceremony in Tomari Port at 18:00