BY JONATHAN A. KROUNER
The biggest dragon boat races of the year take place this weekend in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, but Randy Ng of the DCH Dragon Boat Club isn’t nervous.
Ng, 29, a self-employed Queens resident, is just excited to get a chance to perform in front of friends and family.
“It’s a happy time because you get to showcase all of the hard work you put in,” Ng said.
But that doesn’t mean the race is without its distinct challenges.
“I always tell everyone that anything can happen in New York [dragon boats] because it’s unlike any other race,” Ng said.
The New York races are different in that the course varies depending on a boat’s lane position. Most races provide a boat but allow the team to bring its own life vests and paddles. In New York, all equipment is provided by the festival.
The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival on Meadow Lake is an annual tradition entering its 22nd year. On August 4 and August 5, over 170 teams will compete for $60,000 in prizes.
DCH, sponsored by the auto group of the same name, is one of the largest teams in the northeast.
Alex Chao, 48, founded the team in 1992 with a roommate who worked for the company but couldn’t find enough people to fill out the roster.
Chao, a dentist and Forest Hills resident, began the team with just 22 people, including two women, and watched it grow to more than 100 members.
He’s amazed at how far it’s grown in 20 years.
While most teams recruit the fastest and strongest paddlers, including Navy SEALS and Marines, DCH only brings in family and friends, explained Chao. This includes high school students from elite academic schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, who are trained by the team and expected to lead them in competitions in the future.
Despite the amateur status, the team expects to make waves in all the races, including the U.S. Open (main event) as well as the mixed, women and junior divisions. The most important race of the day, said Ng, is the charity race where they’ll compete for the Charles B. Wang Community Center, with locations in Flushing and Chinatown.
The charity event strikes right at the heart of the dragon boat racing community whose focus is beyond merely winning and losing.
“We strive to apply what we do in racing to what we do in life,” Ng said. Their goal isn’t solely to win races but to nurture youth and to build friendships.
“Your teammates become your second family,” Ng said. “The bonds you make with them last a lifetime and no one can take that away from you.”
A dragon boat, made of sturdy teak wood, holds 22 people, including a coxswain and drummer, all paddling in sync towards the finish line.
“How many situations do you have where you can work with 20 other people?” asked Ng.