Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival
When: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
Cost: Free; $10 for parking or $2 for shuttle bus
More info: www.dragonboatatlanta.com or www.lckc.org
Athletes armed with paddles and positioned inside a brightly painted boat with a dragon face on the bow rip through the water with ease. The men and women race toward the shore lined with cheering crowds and musicians playing an ancient melody of the Chinese culture.
One would only expect to find such sights in the Far East. However, a visit to the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, in Gainesville on Sept. 12 will hold such sights.
“This is the best hands-on cultural diversity event in the area,” said Eugene Hanratty, the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival chairman of the board and founder.
Beginning at 7 a.m. the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival will kick off with a ritual of the dragon boats being blessed by a Buddhist monk. The first race of this cultural event will launch at 7:45 a.m. and races continue until noon.
Heats among the teams will occur every 10 minutes, according to the festival website (www.dragonboatatlanta.com.) Each team must have a minimum of 12 paddlers but no more than 20. Drummers and steerspersons are not considered paddlers, according to the website.
When the event was founded in 1994, only eight boats competed. Last year, more than 50 teams raced. This year marks an increase to 72 teams, Hanratty said.
At noon, teams will have an hourlong reprieve from racing, and the other festivities for spectators will begin. The opening entertainment will feature the Dotting of the Eye ceremony followed by performances by several Asian artists.
The eye-dotting ceremony has a lot of tradition in the Chinese culture and the sport of dragon boat racing, Hanratty said.
“They paint the eye of the dragons and it symbolizes the awakening of the dragons,” he said.
After the entertainment, the dragon boat races will resume 1:10 p.m. and continue until 3 p.m.
Following those races, the teams will receive their awards and raffle winners will get accept their prizes.
To close out the festivities, the festival will feature the 2,000-meter race, which begins at 3:40 p.m. at the finish line tower. In the race, athletes can show off their muscle and skill but only from the selected teams.
The winning team will be crowned at the end of the race.
While spectators watch the races for free, food will be available for purchase including Chinese cuisine, Cambodia dishes and everything in between. Cash is the preferred method of payment, Hanratty said.
Parking at the venue is limited and is $10 per car. Free offsite parking is available at Hall County Federal Credit Union at 2601 Limestone Parkway and the Amazing Grace Baptist Church at 145 Clarks Bridge Road. Shuttle buses charging $2 per person will run continuously to the venue throughout the day.
For more information, visit www.dragonboatatlanta.com or www.lckc.org.