Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival
When: 6 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
Cost: Free to attend
More info: www.dragonboatatlanta.com
One of the most colorful, lively and cultural events to take place on Lake Lanier returns to Gainesville this month.
The 2016 Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival will be Saturday, Sept. 10, at Lake Lanier Olympic Park at 3105 Clarks Bridge Road in Gainesville.
The annual festival brings thousands of competitors and spectators for a day of races, cultural events and international cuisine and goods. Festival chairman Gene Hanratty called the event “the best hands-on cultural diversity event in the area.”
“There is no place else where you can participate in a cultural diversity where you are actually doing it,” Hanratty said. “You’re part of it.”
Parking for the event opens at 5:30 a.m. and the park and registration will open at 6 a.m. One hour later, Buddhist monks will bless the dragon boats, which reach lengths of 39 feet. Races will begin at 7:25 a.m., and pause for an hour at noon for an opening ceremony full of dancing and special cultural performances. Races will continue in the afternoon, with the final award ceremony at 4:30 p.m.
Many people attend the event just for the opening ceremonies, Hanratty said.
“There is a very, very distinct Asian flavor to the opening ceremonies,” he said. “We do a ceremony called dotting of the eye. In this, we’ll have selected people go down to the dragon boats, and with a paintbrush and black paint, they will fill in the eye of the dragon, which symbolizes the awakening of the dragon.”
The ceremonies also include dancing and performances from multiple Asian countries. They are held in the middle of the event to allow participants and volunteers to get off the water for a rest and a bite to eat, he said.
Competing teams include companies and universities to cancer survivors and friends. Last year, more than 5,000 people attended and competed in the event.
Hanratty said this year, they are expecting 8,000. Close to 80 teams from the Atlanta area and other states, including North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, are participating this year.
Hanratty said attendees will get to see “plenty” of the sport, with races starting every seven minutes.
“It’s exciting,” he said.
Hong Kong introduced the world’s first international dragon boat races in 1976, and the sport has grown in popularity since, with competitions taking place in cities around the world.
According to the festival website, the sport dates back nearly 2,000 years and has as its origins an ancient Chinese legend. According to the legend, a beloved poet named Qu Yuan living in the kingdom of Chu in the 4th century B.C. was banished from court by corrupt leaders.
He roamed the countryside writing poetry until he drowned himself in the Mi Lo River. Local fishermen raced in the boats in an attempt to save him, but arrived too late. Dragon boat races are a re-enactment of these fishermen’s efforts.
On-site and off-site parking, with shuttles, are available. On-site parking costs $10, but entrance to the festival is free.
For more information on the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival, visit www.dragonboatatlanta.com.