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Riverside Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, August 4, 2004


Scores of New Yorkers streamed toward Riverside Park’s Pier A on Saturday, July 31 and Sunday, August 1 to watch the 2nd Annual New York City International Dragon Boat Race Festival. It was just past dawn when the races began, and the die-hard attendees were already there, many decaffeinated and bleary-eyed. Other, more casual observers happened upon the race as they walked their bikes through a Greenway crowded with onlookers.

Over 500 paddlers in more than 30 boats took to the water to race in the two-day dragon boat festival, the most competitive dragon boat race in the county. Early Saturday morning, after some brief welcoming remarks, Parks & Recreation First Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh and Council Member Gale Brewer performed the "Awakening of the Dragon" ritual, dotting a dragon boat’s eyes with red paint and awakening it from its winter hibernation. According to Chinese lore, the eye-dotting ceremony brings luck to the surrounding waters. With that completed, the races began.

"Dragon boat racing is thrilling because of its cultural legacy and intense teamwork and athleticism" said Liberty Racing Association President Ed Lau. "This year’s race went off without a hitch in one of New York City’s most beautiful parks. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival."

Dragon boat racing is a team sport. A minimum of 16 and maximum of 20 paddlers propel the boat, which is adorned with a dragon’s head and tail. The dragon boat team is completed by a steersman and a drummer, who dictates the rhythm of the paddling. This year’s festival drew athletes from all over Canada and the United States, including the Canadian National Dragon Boat Team, the U.S.A. National Team, a team of breast cancer survivors from Philadelphia called Against the Wind, and the Philadelphia Police Department Team. Other groups were made up of paddlers from the Ottawa Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, NYPD, Correction Department, and the FBI. For the first time ever, Parks & Recreation organized a team for the event called the Parks Dragons. In addition to racing, festival events included children’s martial arts lessons, traditional dragon and lion dances, and musical performances.

"The Dragon Boat Festival is the largest example, so far, of the Marina Division’s focus on expanding recreational boating and access to New York City waters," said Parks & Recreation Chief of Operations and Parks Dragons paddler Keith Kerman. "We plan an even bigger festival next year—and an aggressive off-season recruitment program for our Parks team."

New York City’s very own Metro Athletic Dragon took home the prize in the 500-meter open division. In the 500-meter women’s division, the Canadian National Women’s Team raced to first place. The Quebecois 22 Dragons took the mixed division, the Prestige Toyota Red Dragons won the Corporate Challenge, and the Philadelphia Police Department trounced their competition in the law enforcement division.

Dragon boat festivals are celebrated around the globe, particularly in East Asia, although the sport of dragon boat racing is one of the fastest growing team sports in the world. Dragon boat festivals are traditionally celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth moon of the lunar calendar, which corresponds to the solar calendar’s late May to mid-June. Along with the Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival is one of the three most important Chinese holidays.

Dragon boat racing dates back to the fourth century B.C.E. According to legend, a popular poet and government minister named Qu Yuan fell out of favor with the emperor and in his dejection, drowned himself in the Mei Lo River. Nearby fishermen raced out in boats to rescue him. Discovering that he was dead, they beat their oars into the water and banged drums to keep fish and water dragons from devouring Qu Yuan’s body. They also threw balls of rice into the water to nourish Qu Yuan’s soul. Tsung tzu, balls of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, are one of the traditional foods eaten during the festival. The dragon boat festival honors both the life of Qu Yuan and the dragon’s mythical power to cast good luck over bodies of water.



"The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts,
and that is where all our battles should be fought."

Mahatma Gandhi

Directions to Riverside Park

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