By Bill Parry
The 24th Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival drew thousands of people to the shores of Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadow Corona Park over the weekend, and they cheered even though they did not know who was winning.
A record number 197 teams took part this year, paddling the 1-ton teak boats 250 or 500 meters.
Even the crews did not know each race’s winner until the results were posted on a chain link fence beside the marina. It was old-school racing befitting the ancient Chinese legend that is honored by the festival each year.
In the third century B.C., poet Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Ni Lo River rather than serve in the court of a new emperor. Locals raced their fishing boats in an attempt to save the drowning man, beating drums to scare off water dragons.
Chinese dragon boats have been racing for hundreds of years since as part of the holiday known as Duanwu. It is celebrated with a festival each year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month to honor Qu Yuan.
The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival has 30 custom-made boats that are blessed by Buddhist monks before they enter the water. The promoters call it the largest multicultural festival in New York celebrating diversity and tradition. There was also martial art exhibitions and live music, including a performance by the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York. There were also folk arts and crafts and an international food court, but that was smaller than in previous years.
Nearly all of the nearly 200 crews brought their own provisions. Some settled for hero sandwiches, while others set up grills for steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs. Each team had its own tented area where they relaxed while waiting their turn to race.
Teams come from all over North America representing large banking companies like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Verizon, Con Edison and the FDNY sent crews this year.
Even Borough President Melinda Katz sent a team that finished second in a special race commemorating the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair.
The highest profile race, the $500 Open Championship, was won by the DCH Auto Group team from South Amboy, N.J.
The Shanghai Commercial Bank sent a team for the 24th straight year and they came away with a medal in a charity race.
“We’ve always done very well here, but we’ll take this as a consolation,” Capt. Joseph Lau said. “We may look happy, but we’re really used to winning the big races.”
The Harvard Dragon Boat team competed for the first time in three years.
“We had several options on where to race this weekend, so we put it up for a vote,” team Capt. John Lian said. “We knew that this was going to be a huge festival and we have a lot of New Yorkers on the team this year that swayed the vote a bit. Of course, the Chinese food had a lot to do with it. It’s so much better in New York than Boston.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.