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Art, speed and Paraw Regatta Festival

For one weekend in February, the waters of Iloilo come to life with vibrant colors as thousands of people gather on the shoreline to watch and cheer for their favorite paraws.

The Paraw Regatta Festival (Iloilo Paraw Regatta) is an annual race and art competition held on the third weekend of February since 1973. It is also considered the oldest and largest traditional sailboat event in Asia. Like the famous Dinagyang Festival, Paraw Regatta is one of Iloilo’s top tourist attractions. It features close to a hundred boat crews and their paraws racing up the coast of Panay and Guimaras and back to Iloilo.

What sets the Paraw Regatta Festival apart from other races is that it is an art competition too. Paraw sails are painted with flamboyant, colorful designs by craftsmen and artists from all over the Visayas.

The sailboats are quite a sight when they’re lined up on the beach like giant canvases pre-race. They’re thrilling to watch on the water too as wind and skill determine the winners of the regatta. The paraws race a distance of 36.5 kilometers and are divided into several categories according to race distance (there is even a short one for kids), boat length, and painted/unpainted sails.

These life-sized paraws are an inspiration for Paraw World’s miniatures. Like the regatta that began seven decades ago to help preserve the history of this Visayan sailboat, Paraw World’s mission is to showcase the beauty and value of the paraw—in miniatures that can be displayed all over the world.

The Boracay paraws make their way on flatbed trucks to Iloilo days before the regatta. Mike Siñel, head of the Malay Association of Sailing Boat Owners Incorporated (MASBOI), says the Boracay paraws often come out on top in the regatta for years in a row. “Our boat crews are excellent at racing because they sail every day in Boracay and we also hold races among ourselves in Caticlan,” he says.

MASBOI is a cooperative that organizes the boat crews serving tourists in Boracay to ensure there is equal distribution of bookings every day. It is one of the communities supported by Paraw World, which donates 5% of its net profit for the repair and maintenance of the island’s paraws.

As for festival’s art competition, well, it’s anybody’s game. Boracay boatmen may excel at racing, but the entire Visayas region is known for its art and artists. In fact, the Spaniards called the Visayans “pintados” or “painted ones” to refer to their tattoos and other forms of body art.

See you at the next regatta. See you at Paraw World!


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