BY KIRSTEN E. PAULSON
Sunny skies and warm weather made for perfect conditions this weekend during the 25th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York (HKDBF-NY) at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
HKDBF-NY is the largest event of its kind in the U.S., and for 25 years it has drawn an audience of more than 50,000 people from across North America. This free, multicultural festival, held on Aug. 8 and 9, 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.
Races and other activities began at 9 a.m. on Saturday; however, the festival was officially kicked off at noon with an opening ceremony, preceded by a parade in which dragon dancers and drummers led a procession of racing teams to the main stage, where they were greeted by a cheering crowd.
Henry Wan, chairman of the HKDBF-NY board, led the ceremony and accepted numerous proclamations from local politicians who were in attendance, including City Councilman Peter Koo, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Congresswoman Grace Meng, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Public Advocate Letitia James, and representatives for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“It’s a privilege to serve the community and to see all these people coming out to enjoy the festival,” Wan said. The ceremony concluded with a ribbon-cutting, as well as a traditional ritual in which the eyes of the dragon that led the parade were dotted with red paint.
Races resumed after the opening ceremony. More than 200 teams and 2,500 participants from the U.S. and Canada participated in this year’s U.S. Dragon Boat Open Championship. Several major corporations fielded teams for the races, including Con Edison, HSBC Bank, Flushing Bank, the Sing Tao Daily, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. The Municipal Invitational race featured teams fielded by de Blasio, Katz, 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.
Festival-goers were also able to enjoy a variety of entertainment on the main stage, including dance and musical performances that incorporated both traditional and contemporary Chinese arts, comedy acts, and martial arts demonstrations by Shaolin monks. Japanese and Italian musical and dance groups also put on a show at the festival.
The festival’s menu included typical Chinese fare such as lo mein, spring rolls, and steamed buns and dumplings. Attendees also had the choice to chow down on shish kebobs, grilled meats, pretzels, churros, sno-cones and other diverse foods.
“The recognition we’re getting from everybody is one of our major achievements,” Wan said. “We began 25 years ago with just 10 teams, and now we have over 200. Nobody knew what the dragon boat race was, and now it’s one of the biggest events in New York City. There’s been a huge outpouring of support from the community and corporations.”