BY RYAN QUINN
Flushing drew large crowds last weekend as the neighborhood celebrated the 27th annual Hong Kong Dragon Boat Race festival at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
A total of 93 races involving 212 teams took place at the park on Saturday and Sunday.
The dragon boat race—a Chinese cultural touchstone—dates back to the third century BCE, when it commemorated the death of the poet Qu Yuan.
During the Flushing event, participants lined the shore in the park, congregated in tents and barbecued in between races.
Aside from the dragon boat races, the festival featured vendors, corporate giveaways and traditional entertainers for spectators. A stage set up in the park featured a variety of entertainment, including dancers, music and other traditional arts.
The race featured numerous corporate racing teams, as well as teams from various city government agencies and the city’s Police and Fire departments.
Wei Zhang, who has participated in the race for six years, described it as an enjoyable way to get out of the office. The captain of the UPS team, Tham Wynn, said that any workplace hierarchy is nonexistent once dragon boats are involved.
Wynn said that another benefit for the co-workers on the team is participating in the spirit of “cultural diversity.” He added that the event and training leading up to it was an educational experience. Additionally, the nature of the sport “increases teamwork and makes them more comfortable with each other,” he said.
Multiple participants praised the sport for its emphasis on working together, since the paddles have to be synchronized for efficiency. Anyone who strays from the united rhythm of the whole team is a weak link, whether they are too fast or too slow—or, as Wynn put it, if you’re the fastest, “you’re actually the slowest.”
One racer agreed, calling it “the ultimate team sport.”
A unified spirit extended from the water to the shore, where numerous Queens residents turned out to show support. One attendee, Alex Fung, said that he knew little about the event, but simply came to cheer on his co-worker. Another resident, Ray Zhao, who participated last year but could not commit to the schedule of the team this year, said that he primarily came to encourage his teammates. Zhao called the event a “big family day.” Zhao said that he plans to participate again next year when he will be able to commit to the schedule.
While the event emphasizes culture and community, competition does not take a backseat. When asked about her favorite part of the weekend, Wynn responded, “Besides winning?”
David Archer, the marketing director for the event, said he agreed that teamwork, culture and community are “definitely the keys” for the dragon boat races, but added that each year, more money is required to combat rising costs and to provide quality staff.
Overall, Archer was pleased with the turnout for the festival.
“[There’s] always room for improvement, but yes, [it was] successful from our point of view,” he said. “[It] went off well, no major issues, happy sponsors, large audience, good weather, good press coverage, happy competitors, good media support, good support from Parks, Police, FDNY, MTA, local government.”
Each year, the festival hands out an award of Team of the Year for the group that “steps up and contributes beyond the norm.” This year’s honoree is Flushing Bank, which will receive its award during a ceremony and dinner on Aug. 18 in Chinatown at The Joy Luck Restaurant.