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Dragon boat paddlers roar down Chattahoochee
Annual festival brings tradition, competition together on Lake Lanier
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Buddhist monks bless the boats early Saturday morning at the 18th annual Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival at the Lake Lanier Olympic Center at Clarks Bridge Park. - photo by NAT GURLEY

The air was charged with excitement Saturday at the 18th annual Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival.

Sunshine and a slight breeze provided good conditions for the teams as they competed at the Lake Lanier Olympic Center on Clark’s Bridge Road.

“The wind effects them a little bit, because the boats seem to go a little bit faster this year,” said Jackson Chang, president of the festival. “It’s a tailwind for a lot of boats.”

An estimated crowd of 10,000 came out to watch the teams compete.

“(The winners) get medals,” Chang said. “And they also win bragging rights for the year. Then we come back and do it again next year.”

There were also several food and craft vendors, many offering traditional Asian fare like Chinese food, parasols and fans.

Participants paid homage to tradition, with Buddhist monks blessing the dragon boats, and the Dotting of the Eye of the Dragon.

“It’s to waken up the dragon so they can see where they’re going,” Chang explained. It is supposed to bring good luck.

The eye-dotting ceremony took place in the afternoon, after one team’s boat flipped over after taking a turn too quickly. No one was hurt, Chang said.

“This dragon boat festival is one of the best dragon boat festivals in the United States,” said Anita Chan, director of the Hong Kong Economic Trade Offices in New York. “You have the best venue and you have so many teams. You are having more and more spectators and paddlers every year.

“So we are indeed very proud to be a part of this great festival,” she added.

The sport of dragon boating has grown worldwide from its beginnings in China. It involves a long boat, shaped and painted to resemble a dragon. Each boat holds 20 paddlers along with a drummer and a sternman.

Saturday’s festival raised money to support breast cancer research and awareness. Some of the proceeds will also go to Bert’s Big Adventure, Chang said.

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