The traditional teak boats glimmered through the water as rowers pulled the oars to the beat of a pounding drum in the rear. With every beat they used the power of determination to force the oars through the water, propelling the boat to the finish line.
A Chinese culture and history celebration took over Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, the easternmost borough in New York City, for the 27th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races over the weekend.
Appreciating the rich history and culture behind the the two-day festival, over 50,000 people crowded into the park to watch 200 teams of racers take to water.
"It's a fun event, it's also a family event," Henry Wong, chairman of the Dragon Boat Festival in New York, told Xinhua after the opening ceremony that kicked off with a parade of athletes on Saturday.
"It originated from China but got very popular among people with different backgrounds here in the U.S.. The reason is simple, the races are a fun way to learn about Chinese culture and stay active," he added.
Teams from all over the United States, Central America and Canada participated in the festival, with athletes ranging from teenagers to the age of 60s. One man has rowed in the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races for 22 years.
In addition to the fun on water, there were other cultural displays such as live music, traditional dance performances, and delicious Chinese food served throughout the festival.
Dragon Boat Racing traces back to a legend based on the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who lived during 340-278 BC. He advocated reforms in his home state of Chu, but the King of Chu greatly disliked him and exiled him.
In his banishment, Qu Yuan kept writing poetry centered on his concerns for his homeland and its people. Tragedies struck when he heard that his home had been invaded, prompting him to jump into the Ni Lo River and drown himself.
On hearing the news, people from the local community raced out to the river to save the beloved man, but failed. To keep his body intact and sacred, they began beating drums and slapping the water with their paddles, making sure his remains were not desecrated by fish or water dragons.
They threw rice dumplings into the water as an offering to his valiant spirit, which explains why rice dumplings are still eaten on today's Dragon Boat Festivals. This tale sparked the beginning of the tradition of Dragon Boat Racing.
While races may have evolved over centuries, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) in New York keeps the tradition of Dragon Boat Racing alive in the Big Apple.
"This year's festival is of special significance as we are marking the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China," said Joanne Chu, director of HKETO New York, which has been the title sponsor of the event for 27 years.
The home of the dragon boat festival was strategically chosen, since Queens accommodates more Chinese descendants than in any other area in the United States. In fact, many say the only place you will find more Chinese people is back in China.
Being home to the 1962 World's Fair where exhibitors worldwide showcased their inventions and culture, the Corona Park is still the perfect place for people to come and enjoy family fun and sportsmanship while sharing the unique and rich history of Dragon Boat Racing.
"It's a tougher sport than I had expected," said Walid with a UPS dragon boat team, who joined the race for the first time. "But it is a lot fun."
"When you are racing, there is part of you that comes out, that does not come out during practice, so there is a special feel on the water, when everybody thinks the same thing, that is winning!" said Lily, a young lady competitor from a Boston team.