More than 180 Dragon boat teams take to Meadow Lake to prepare for August festival

dragon boat
Coach Larry Bird working with a team over the weekend
Photo by Ramy Mahmoud

Approximately 180 dragon boat teams took to the waters at Flush Meadows Corona Park over the June 29/30 weekend for their first practice session of the year in preparation for the upcoming festival.

The teams are getting ready for the 32nd annual NYC Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 3/ 4. The event, which takes place on Meadow Lake, is expected to be particularly large this year since it is the Year of the Dragon.

The training sessions included teams representing Wall Street banks—such as J.P Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs—to hospital systems, such as Northwell Long Island Jewish Forest Hills. There were teams practicing representing everything from New York City agencies to large corporations—such as the City Hall Dragons, the NYPD Dragon Boat Team, Verizon and Cathy Pacific Airways.

The sessions involved training clinics with two internationally recognized coaches—Konrad Doerbecker and Larry Bird.

Both coaches discussed and demonstrated rowing techniques. The teams were then timed and evaluated to see what division they should be in.

“I’ve been helping out the NY Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival for two decades,” said Coach Doerbecker. “I’m trying to up the general level of dragon boat knowledge and expertise in the New York City area.”

A team training on Meadow Lake over the weekend for the festival. Photo by Ramy Mahmoud

Coach Bird said his role is to improve the rowers. “I was invited to New York City to make people better paddlers for the dragon boat festival.”

The teams with the most experienced rowers—who also beat a pre-set time—compete in Division 1. Approximately 30 teams have met the requirements. Each team has 12 rowers in the boat.

More than 1,500 paddlers are anticipated to participate in this year’s races. The festival will include eight women’s teams and 40 mixed teams.

Bridgette Payne, captain of the Long Island Jewish Northwell Forest Hills Water Dragons, said her team has been participating in the festival since 2018.

“We enjoy it because we get to hang out outside the hospital,” Payne said. “We have doctors, nurses, dietary, transports, every part of the hospital represented. It’s great to spend time with community members.”

The first race will take place at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3. The morning races will be followed by an opening ceremony at noon, which includes a ceremonial parade.

The festival will close on Sunday, Aug. 4, with a championship race at 5 p.m. to decide the year’s top team. However, both days will be filled with thrilling races from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., including a charity race.

The teams compete for medals, trophies and bragging rights.

The two-day event is the oldest and largest traditional dragon boat festival in the country. It features boat races, food vendors and free live entertainment.

The boat racing tradition is rooted in an annual Chinese rite commemorating Qu Yuan, an idealistic poet and performer who drowned himself in 278 B.C. “to protest against his emperor’s policies.”

The festival organizers anticipate that there will be 40,000 attendees a day. The event attracts people of all backgrounds, with the attendees in previous years being 60% Asian, 20% white, 10% African American/Caribbean, and 10% from other ethnic groups.

Team practices will take place every weekend until the festival.

The Long Island Jewish Northwell Forest Hills Water Dragons met at Meadow Lake over the June 29/30 weekend for a training session. Photo by Ramy Mahmoud