Feature: Dragon boat paddlers braced for annual event in New York

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-14 17:22:59|Editor: Lu Hui
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New York, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- Dressed in her Catch22 team-logo tank top, Stacy Wu hit for a morning exercise on the lake of World Fair Marina in New York on Sunday, together with her dragon boat teammates.

For the past month, they have come for training twice or three times a week, preparing for a race less than one week away.

Stacy, a New York-based analyst, is the pacer in the team, sitting in the front row, observing the water conditions, and setting up the pace for the boat with her paddle.

As a Chinese American, she learned about the sport from the annual dragon boat festival in Flushing, a Chinese community in New York where she lives.

"I do really enjoy the cultural aspect of it," she said. "I would like to get in touch with my Chinese side."

This is the second year since Stacy joined Catch22, one of the most prominent dragon boat teams in the city. Born out of New York City's Flushing Bay in 2011, the team has been a breeding ground for dragon boat crews for years.

"Our teammates come from all over New York area, we meet them through our social media sites, through friends and family," David Woo, the coach and head of the team, told Xinhua.

Most of the paddlers are drawn to the team by its glorious competition record, not just Asian Americans. It now has nearly 40 members. In New York City, there are quite a few competitive teams like Catch22, along side many other amateur and corporate teams, who can be spotted almost every summer weekend on the lakes in New York City.


In Chinese legend, the dragon boat culture emerged some 2,500 years ago, to mark Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese patriotic poet, after he drowned himself in the Miluo River. To prevent fish and water dragons from eating his body, the locals beat their drums and splashed their paddles. This was the beginning of dragon boat racing .

Qu might never have imagined that his death would inspire a much-loved sport, not only in China, but also all across the world.

The tradition is well-kept in China, where dragon boat races, or the Dragon Boat Festival, are held in many cities on the fifth day of the fifth month of lunar calendar. Rules are also formulated to make the sport into regulated events.

In 1991, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York City took a step future by bringing it to New York's Hudson River, trying to promote the image of Hong Kong.

It was supposed to be a one-year event, but the organizers decided to bring it back due to its popularity, Henry Wan, chairman of New York's Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival host committee, told Xinhua.

"It is now one of the largest summer festivals in New York City," he added.

Last weekend marked the 27th year of the event, and organizers reported a record number of participants: over 2,500 racers from some 200 well-trained teams paddled across the New York's Meadow Lake, which have turned this popular boating sport into a festive multi-cultural gathering, backed by martial arts performances, lion dancing, and so on.

Not just in New York. This water sport is now among the fastest growing team water sports in the world. Competitions are held in many countries in Asia, North America, and Europe as well.


As the water sport prevails around the world, some changes occur for sure, tinted with local characteristics.

In New York, for example, the date of the festival is postponed from someday in June to early August, to adapt to the chillier weather, and give paddling teams more time to practice.

Also, some teams use modern speaker system to communicate, rather than depending on a drummer sitting in the front of the boat to set the rhythm of the strokes.

For most dragon boat events in North America, the old-fashioned dragon-headed boat, and drum as well, are still kept to carrying the Asian tradition, and the rules set by the International Dragon Boat Federation are abided.

As a competition, some techniques are necessary. When 20 paddlers are sitting in a slim boat, it is a test of grace, flexibility and synchronicity. Paddlers have to receive training to keep the boat going in the most efficient way.

"This is like the ultimate team sport," said Armando Gong, another Catch22 paddler, before he gets on the boat with others. They are preparing for the Riverfront Dragon Boat & Asian Festival at the following weekend, in Connecticut.

"For basketball and football, there are a lot of superstars who are very important to the team," Armando said. "In dragon boat, everyone is equal, everyone has to pull their own weight to the boat."

The difficulty is organizing a boat of 22 individuals, including one steersman, one drummer and 20 paddlers, to come at the same time, to practice and to produce one sound stroke, said David. To prepare for a race, all members come together and take part in race planning and strategy, and they have to get on an agreement before going onto water.

"There are 19 other people, who might have a different point of view, for all 20 to be all on the same boat is actually very difficult to be on sync," echoed Qing Liao, who paddles on the front row of the boat.

Once the unison is reached, the friendship they have achieved along the way makes the paddling experience more valuable, according to the paddlers.

"The unified bond between teammates and individual paddler can make or break a team," David told Xinhua before getting his group together for some pep talk.

"When you have that kind of chemistry, it's a lot easier to have one unified stroke to make a really fast boat," he said.

The camaraderie on the water stretches beyond the boat. To get better as a team, paddlers take their time to bond, to hang out, and to travel. Even during off seasons, they still work out together in gyms.

"I got sucked in, once you are in, it is just so part of your life," Qing said. Turning back to her teammates with a smile, she joined other Catch22ers for another round of paddling practice.