Hartford celebrates Asian culture with Dragon Boat and Asian festival
Published: Friday, August 30, 2013
Updated: Friday, August 30, 2013 00:08
Since 2000, Riverfront Recapture in Hartford has annually hosted the Riverfront Dragon Boat and Asian Festival at the end of every summer. This year the event had its biggest turn out yet on Aug. 16-17, with over 90 teams from around the Northeast participating in races that spanned the weekend. Considering the fact that the first Dragonboat Festival consisted of 30 local teams competing in one day, the festival has come a long way, hosting more than 2,700 athletes.
I was lucky enough to be a part of the Riverfront Recapture team that put the entire event together, one heavily reliant on volunteers. Supplies for the races included the dragon boats, lifejackets and paddles, supplied by dragonboat racing association Great White North, while Recapture organized and set up the event to accommodate the thousands of spectators. Preparations included food and store vendors, live performances and activities for children. Located in Charter Oak Landing, a white canopy by the Connecticut River, the festival is one of many held by Riverfront Recapture throughout summer.
As a volunteer, I assisted teams as a dock master. This title meant docking all of the boats, providing life jackets to paddlers, helping paddlers in and out of their boats and overseeing the loading of the boats. Basically, I was witnessing all of the action. Having always been fascinated by the boats and the way the sport worked, my experience was satisfying to say the least.
There were five lanes with three boats in each lane docked, tied to each other. Pairing up with another volunteer, I handled everything that happened in Lane 4. Before the teams came down to the dock, in sequence by lane, Great White North workers removed the two outside boats for the paddlers to load into their boats. These teams were from all over the Northeast and included paddlers of all ages; from older men and women to teams of teenagers. Though these teams competed professionally and knew what they were doing, my dock mate let me know how the teams from the day before were inexperienced yet raced for fun.
Dragonboats are 40 feet long and hold 22 people; ten rows of benches hold two people each, the drummer in the front with a built in drum, and a navigator in the rear steering. Each team member paddles to one side of the boat and to the beat of the drummer (and the calls of the member on the back). The boats traveled down the river and set up for each 500-yard race at the last 100-yard buoy. The end of the race was set up in front of the canopy of spectators, who all cheered loudly as the boats neared the finish line. While each race took place, other teams filled boats, preparing for the next race. Teams were constantly on and off the docks and there was hardly a dull moment during the four hours.
All of the teams knew each other from previous races and for years. The camaraderie between the teams was prevalent in the way they praised each other after every race, helped each other in and out of their boats, and the way they mingled outside of the race course, at their individual tents. While performances by groups like UConn Tae Kwon Do and concerts were going on at the upper level, there was an entire inner culture of dragonboat racing happening at the river. I was fortunate to have experienced the workings of the sport and the athletes.