July 21, 2021 By Ryan Songalia
The oldest and largest Dragon Boat festival in the United States will return to Queens next month.
The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival will stage its 30th iteration on Saturday, Aug. 7 at Meadow Lake at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., rain or shine, and attendance is free. The opening ceremony is scheduled for noon.
The event didn’t take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While past years saw the event stretched out over two days, this year’s festival will be a one-day event that adheres to New York COVID-19 safety protocols.
The number of paddlers per boat is being scaled back this year from the traditional 18 to 10. However, there will still be a guide or steer person, and a drummer. This year, unlike in the past, there will be no cash prizes–just bragging rights. Furthermore, there will only be 18 teams—and it is by invitation only.
Still, the event will represent a return to normalcy as the public will yet again be able to watch the colorful boats—with their dragon heads at the front and sleek dragon tails at the back—cut through Meadow Lake.
The participants will be propelling one-ton, teak boats forward by paddling in unison as the steer barks out directions and the drummer beats their percussion instrument in sync with the paddling.
There will be seven races in the morning and seven in the afternoon. Each race will have three boats competing per heat, with the first, second and third placed boats competing in three separate finals to determine the event’s final rankings.
Also scheduled are two special races between teams from Queens Borough President Donovan Richards’ office and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, with one scheduled for the morning and another in the evening.
All attendees and racers must be fully vaccinated – or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event.
Henry Wan, Board Chairman of the festival, says he felt it was important to hold the festival as a way to contribute to the reopening of the city’s economy, as well as to promote the COVID-19 vaccine and bring a focus to anti-Asian and other hate crime issues.
“We look forward to hosting a fully vaccinated audience this year,” said Wan, who first staged the races in 1991, and had previously been a coach and paddler before focusing solely on organizing.
There will be plenty to do on dry land, as well. A cultural program featuring live music by the Chinese Music Ensemble of New York, martial arts by the New York Shaolin Temple, plus tales from professional storyteller Jonathan Kruk.
There will be non-Asian presentations as well, including a Caribbean steel drum performance from the CASYM Steel Orchestra.
Sponsors and community-based organizations will also have booths for giveaways, with food trucks also available to serve food.
Dragon Boat racing dates back to 278 BC during the Ming Dynasty.
According to legend, Qu Yuan, a poet and court minister, jumped into the Ni Lo River in Hunan Province to protest his emperor’s policies. Local fishermen rowed their boats out to save him, while people on shore beat drums and splashed oars to scare away flesh-eating dragons. Yuan drowned, but a tradition was born.