BY KIRSTEN E. PAULSON
All are invited to enjoy two exciting days of racing and entertainment during the 25th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York (HKDBF-NY) this weekend, Aug. 8 and 9, at Meadow Lake in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
HKDBF-NY is the largest event of its kind in the U.S., and for 24 years it has drawn an audience of more than 50,000 people from across North America. This free, multicultural festival is a celebration of the age-old tradition of dragon boat racing, a sport that makes use of colorful, custom-made teak boats specially made by craftsmen in Hong Kong. The boats, which have dragon heads and tails that adorn their front and back ends, are piloted by teams of 20 people: 18 paddlers, a drummer and a navigator.
More than 200 teams and 2,500 participants from the U.S. and Canada will be competing for cash and prizes in this year’s U.S. Dragon Boat Open Championship. Races that will be part of the championship will include a media invitational, a women’s invitational, a charity race, a corporate invitational and a sponsor’s challenge. Other special/invitational cup races will include the 25th Anniversary Invitational, the HSBC 150th Anniversary Invitational, and the Municipal Invitational, which will feature teams fielded by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Assemblyman Ron Kim and various New York City agencies such as the NYPD, the FDNY, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Parks Department. The New York City Heritage Championship Races will follow the opening day parade at noon on Saturday, Aug. 8.
Racing will begin at 9 a.m. and festival events will continue all day till approximately 5 p.m. Besides the races, attendees can enjoy presentations of traditional Chinese arts, martial arts demonstrations, the traditional dragon dance, music, and other demonstrations of folk arts and crafts. Visitors can also enjoy a meal at the international food court.
“The board and I are very proud and excited to have been a part of the growth of the festival from 10 boats on the Hudson 25 years ago when the festival began, to commemorate the opening of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York (HKETO-NY), to this year’s festival with over 200 teams participating in celebration of the 25th anniversary,” said Henry Wan, chairman of the HKDBF-NY board. “HKDBF-NY has become one of the largest international dragon boat festivals in the world and a much-anticipated event on NYC’s summer calendar.”
The tradition of dragon boat racing dates back to the third century B.C. and commemorates the poet and reformer Qu Yuan, who drowned himself to protest his emperor’s policies. Locals raced in their boats to try and rescue the poet, but were too late. In order to prevent fish and water dragons from eating his body, they beat their drums and splashed their paddles. This marked the beginning of the annual Chinese rite.
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