By Jane Harrison (Originally Posted on Lakeside News)
Exotic sights, sounds and tastes of the Hong Kong Atlanta Dragon Boat Festival will transform the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue into a multi-cultural celebration Sept. 12. The 20th anniversary edition brings back the excitement on the water, flavor from hibachis and rhythm of the dance that fest-goers expect in this popular Lake Lanier tradition.
The milestone anniversary ceremony will recognize early supporters, important individuals and sponsors that grew the event over the years, according to organizer Gene Hanratty, senior consultant with the Hong Kong Information Center Atlanta. He expects 62 teams and 5,000 spectators will attend.
The event merges amateur long-boat races, an eclectic range of food vendors, and traditional Asian song and dance performances. Hanratty contracts the Lanier Canoe & Kayak Club to run the races before and after the noon opening ceremony. Colorful dance troupes and a human-powered dragon perform in the traditional ceremony that kicks off with “Dotting the Eye of the Dragon.”
Plenty of fest-goers go mainly for the food, unusual Chinese, Cambodian, Laotian and Thai fare that’s rare on the northern shores of Lake Lanier. Stuffed bamboo, sugar cane juice, and vegetarian egg rolls diversify the palate in search of new tastes on the LLOV plaza. “We’ll have more food vendors than normal,” said Hanratty, hinting new opportunities for trying the out-of the-ordinary.
Several North Georgia teams will get in on the action. Paddlers from LCKC, ZF Industries, Jackson EMC, and University of North Georgia will board the slim 39-feet boats to race the 500 meter course. The boats, outfitted with decorative dragon heads and tails, hold 22 people, including a drummer, steerer, and 20 paddlers.
The spectacular races, with paddles digging furiously to the drummer’s beat, feature both new and veteran dragon boaters. That’s part of the challenge, said Mike Braff, race director and LCKC board member. “The most many of them have been on the water is two times; others have been out many times,” he said. “The major thing is getting them comfortable.”
Volunteers, about 150 of them, really have to work hard. Braff said the most difficult part is keeping the races on schedule. With boats set to launch every 10 minutes, sometimes an overturned vessel (and it does happen), upsets the timing.
Modern dragon boat racing traces back to 2000 year old Chinese rituals that pitted rural villages against each other. It has emerged as a popular international water sport.
The day begins with Buddhist monks blessing the boats at 7 a.m. and ends with selected teams racing 2,000 meters from 4:30-5 p.m. The boat ramp at Clarks Bridge Park will be closed. Admission is free; parking near LLOV is $10. Shuttle rides from two Clarks Bridge Road sites are $2 per person.