24th Annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York

By Joy Chiang Ling and Kevin Young

The 24th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival New York kicked off in Flushing Meadows Corona Park on August 8th and 9th to honor the legendary Chinese poet, Qu Yuan. Qu was a patriotic intellect who warned his emperor of an attack in 278 B.C. The emperor, however, dismissed Qu and the kingdom quickly fell. After his kingdom surrendered, Qu drowned himself in the Miluo River. To honor his death, the villagers dumped gallons of rice into the river to feed his spirit.

Dragon boaters reenact this sacred tale by rushing to save Qu from drowning as they row in sync with one another to the continuous rhythm of a large drum. They row in custom-made, 40-foot long, teak wood vessels decorated with a dragonhead on the front. These vessels are controlled by up to 18 paddlers, a drummer, and a steers specialist.

Special guests that attended the opening ceremony, included New York State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, New York State Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, New York City Council Member Karen Koslowitz, Borough President Melinda Katz, Congresswoman Grace Meng, and the Director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office New York (HKETO) Steve Barclay.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wasn’t able to attend but sent three representatives on his behalf. The Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department Daniel Nigro, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Mitchell J. Silver, and Thomas Lin from De Blasio’s office recited an honorary proclamation from Mayor De Blasio.

Commissioner of the New York City Fire Department Daniel Nigro, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Mitchell J. Silver.

This year, 197 teams and over 2,500 athletes came from all over the U.S. and Canada to compete in this two-day festival.  The FDNYNYPDJP Morgan ChaseEmblem HealthVerizon, and Goldman Sachs are among some of the many companies and organizations that participated in the races. The MOFOs, a Canadian dragon boat team, said, “We came all the way from Toronto to come down to compete, enjoy the food, ’New York’s shopping, and to just have fun!”

The festival commenced after a traditional opening ceremonial parade that showcased the many teams marching to the main stage alongside an impressive Chinese lion. Elected officials prepared speeches commending the festival and some even had their own teams participate in the races. After their speeches finished, the special guests gathered to cut the red ribbon, which signaled the official start of the convivial festival.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz

“This year is really special because we have many first time guests,” said Henry Wan, the chairman of the HKDBFNY.

“This is an honor for the borough of Queens to host this festival where the world’s fair was held twice in this century,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, “Queens is the center of diversity. It’s the most diverse area on the entire planet. I’m proud that people come from all over the world to compete in the dragon boat races.”

“The crowd just gets bigger and bigger every year. I want to congratulate all of the teams for the amazing job they have been doing for the past 24 years,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng.

Visitors were entertained by shows displayed on the main stage, which included the American Tap Dance Foundation, the Shaolin Masters, and the Caribbean American Sports and Cultural Youth Movement Steel Orchestra. The food court was a remarkably popular attraction too. People lined up to try out a variety of local and cultural meals, such as traditional Chinese Lo-Mein, hackneyed barbecued burgers and franks, refreshing Bruce Cost Ginger Ale, and enormous Italian ices. Sponsors like Verizon had their own promotional booths where park-goers were able to play carnival games to win prizes.

Saturday’s winning boat team was the New York DragonRiders, a team that has competed in this festival since its inception in 1990. “To watch this festival grow over the years is exhilarating. It means a lot to our team to have only 7 hours of training to outperform professionally trained teams and to be able to be in sync with one another. That’s the secret to rowing. Synchronization,” said the DragonRiders’ Team Captain, Clint Heyleiger. “To be a part of this festival feels like an institution. I remember seeing the young adults on our team come watch the races as kids and now they are all grown up and still a part of the festival only now competing.”

The HKDBFNY has a long rich history and is still going strong. Chairman Henry Wan promises that it will be around for future generations to experience and thankfully welcomes all of the support sponsors have given over the years. The event’s organizers are constantly striving to make the next Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival bigger and better.


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