by Liang Xizhi
LONDON, June 3 (Xinhua) -- To the beat of drums, athletes paddled vigorously in unison on a river near London's City in the 23rd edition of the annual London Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival held Sunday at London's Regatta Centre.
Hundreds of athletes of 33 teams from all over Britain, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, from corporate teams to amateur teams, are competing for the six cups with all their might.
While they are trying utmost on rowing, thousands of spectators are cheering them up on the banks.
According to the organizer, the free, family-friendly dragon boat racing event welcomes more than 10,000 visitors from all over the UK and overseas.
"I have never, ever experienced anything like it (dragon boat). I think it is amazing. I found it is really interesting, but honestly, I do not know much about it, but today if anything inspires me to know more," said Stephanie Ann, a local visitor who came with her family to enjoy the festival.
On the sidelines of the racing, various cultural activities, such as live music, lion dancing, and Asian food market are going throughout the festival, which provides an excellent opportunity to the visitors to get close to Chinese culture and is the biggest event of its kind in Europe.
Organized by London Chinatown Lions Club, the fund-raising event donates proceeds to the club's nominated charities, and is supported by the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office, London (HKETO), The Hong Kong Executives Club and The London Chinatown Chinese Community Centre.
Andrew Ip, president of the London Chinatown Lions Club, told Xinhua that the funds raised from the event will go to both the Chinese communities' charities and national or international projects.
"The funding we are raising will mainly be used for local charities of Chinese organizations, Chinese communities and any other worthwhile projects, like we donate funding for cancer research in UK and we also contribute to Lions Clubs International Project as well," he said.
And Ip is very glad to see the event has become one of Britain's fastest growing water sports, and a major event for dragon boat in Europe.
"The Dragon Boat Festival has actually become one of the major culture events in Europe, which is great because it is well-known and attracts a lot of people to the event," said Ip.
And today's scale of the event is also attributed to the efforts of HKETO in London, which along with the London Chinatown Lions Club, spares no effort to keep the Dragon Boat Racing alive in Britain's capital for more than two decades.
Priscilla To, Director General of the HKETO, told Xinhua that she is delighted to see so many visitors participated in the festival this year.
"We are pleased that it has now become one of the major highlights in London's cultural calendar," she said.
Dragon Boat Racing traces back to a legend based on the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who lived during 340-278 BC. Dragon boat festivals originated in ancient southern central China some 2,500 years ago along the banks of the Yangtze River, the longest river in Asia, around the same era the Olympic Games began in Greece.
Today, dragon boat racing is one of the most popular water sports both in China and internationally.