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Dragon boat races highlight annual festival
A dragon boat team paddles down the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue in a previous Dragon Boat Festival. The 2009 festival is today at the Clarks Bridge Road facility. - photo by Tom Reed
2009 Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival
Races throughout the day will keep the boat ramp at Clarks Bridge venue closed all day today
When: Races from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m.; opening ceremony at noon
Where: Clarks Bridge venue on Lake Lanier
Features: Dragon boat races and Asian performers and vendors
Cost: Free

Don’t be shocked if you see dragons plying the waters of Lake Lanier today. It is only the 2009 Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival.

A dragon boat is a narrow, 39-foot vessel powered by a team of paddlers. The boats have fierce dragon heads on the prow and a dragon tail on the stern and usually are made of teak or fiberglass.

Some 50 teams and 5,000 spectators are expected to attend today’s free event, which goes from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The boat ramp at Clarks Bridge venue will be closed all day today for the event.

This is the 14th year for the event, and for the past three years the festival has called Lake Lanier’s Clarks Bridge venue home. The races draw teams from a variety of backgrounds including high school, collegiate, corporate and international teams. There also are several teams of breast cancer survivors from around the country competing. Breast cancer survivors will be honored during the noon opening ceremony.

The ceremony starts with a colorful lion dance and also features the traditional “eye-dotting” ceremony. Eye dotting, part of the 2,000-year-old tradition of dragon boat races, enlists a community member to dot the eye of the dragon to rouse the beast’s sleeping spirit.

The dragon is considered a good luck symbol in Chinese culture.

The opening ceremony includes performances from many Asian groups, including traditional dance and martial arts demonstrations.

The festival also features various Asian vendors.

Race heats launch every few minutes from 9 a.m. to noon and continue from 1 to 3 p.m. after the opening ceremonies. Awards will be presented around 3:15 p.m. and the event will end shortly before 4 p.m. with a drawing for two round-trip, business-class tickets on Air Tran.

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