Two thousand years ago, a Chinese politician ended his life by throwing himself into a river.
The people loved him and searched the river for the statesman. They raced along the banks in their dragon boats and banged their drums loudly, hoping the sound would bring him back to them.
Today, the search takes the form of dragon boat racing, a tradition celebrated in festivals around the world.
The 16th annual Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival was held Saturday at the Lake Lanier Olympic venue on Clarks Bridge Road.
“I think this is one of the most well-organized dragon boat racing events in the U.S. and we’re very happy that the Atlanta people have a chance to also share one of the most popular sports and cultural events in Hong Kong,” said Anita Chan, director of the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office in New York.
Competitive dragon boat racing originated in Hong Kong and is captivating athletes and audiences around the world, making it one of the fastest growing water sports.
“It’s a really neat event to see. There’s a lot of culture here,” volunteer Tony Burchardt said.
Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival has grown substantially over the years. In the beginning, there were only seven racing teams. Seventy-two teams raced in the festival Saturday. Gainesville has been home to the event for the last 12 years.
“This is one of the loveliest places for having a dragon boat festival,” Chan said.
As one of the busiest business cities in the U.S., Atlanta and Hong Kong have many ties to one another.
“Hong Kong has been a friend to Atlanta for many years and our office has been sponsoring its dragon boat festival for 16 years,” Chan said.
More than 6,000 people attended the event Saturday, attracting people from all over the country.
The colorful boats with dragon heads and tails hold 20 paddlers, a drummer and sternman. The drummer sits behind the large head and keeps a steady beat to help the paddlers synchronize their movements.
Deana Main raced Saturday with the Porche dragon boat team from Charlotte, N.C. She said she loves the sporting aspect of dragon boat racing.
“It’s just a great workout, but at the same time you make a lot of good friends and there’s a lot of competition. You don’t have to be excellent to enjoy the sport,” Main said.
Jennifer Frazier, 23, Charlotte, began dragon boat racing three months ago. She said she was never much of a water person until she met the challenge of rowing with 20 other people in unison.
“Here you’re thrusting your whole body, pulling with all your force, using your muscles, your core and your mind. So it’s kind of a challenge for mind and body,” Frazier said.
While the boats were the focus of the day, traditional Chinese performers took center stage during the opening ceremonies. The festival also had vendors selling everything from sugarcane drink to decorative Chinese parasols.