After months of hard work and sore muscles, teams all over Hong Kong will be hitting the water on June 9. Carolynne Dear splashes over to find out what it’s all about.
This month’s national holiday, also known as Tuen Ng, will see spectators flocking to beaches and waterways all over the territory to cheer on local teams as they power their way along a 200-odd metre race course.
The Big Daddy of Hong Kong’s dragon boat events, Stanley, welcomes a massive 30,000 plus spectators each year, to watch over 250 local and international teams battle it out at Stanley Main Beach.
This year the event runs from 8am-5pm, but arrive early to beat the crowds. Even the sea is junked out with water-based spectators enjoying the day. The dragon boats race a 250m short course into the beach. Categories include Men Class A and B, Mixed, Ladies and a brand new event for this year based on cumulative points for teams in all three categories. Until June 11, Stanley Dragon Boat Association is holding an exhibition at Stanley Community Hall showcasing the history of the sport, with photos dating back to the 1950s.
This unique dragon boat event is organised by three local fishermen associations and includes a water parade with colourfully decorated sampans pulled by dragon boats. The racing takes place in the middle of the traditional stilt houses. This year the event starts from 8am at Tai O Waterfront. More info at tai-o.hk
A wonder to watch as local fisherman race huge 50-man boats through Aberdeen harbour. There is a carnival atmosphere all along Aberdeen Promenade from where the racing can be viewed free-of-charge, or from a spectator stand (contact the Dragon Boat Race Committee on 8107 3488 for tickets). The event starts from 8am until around 6pm. Check out the Aberdeen Dragon Boat Facebook page for more info.
Head here for the racing at Tai Pak Beach, plus stage shows and cheerleading by Hong Kong Disneyland. Discovery Bay Plaza is also hosting a carnival with loads of family entertainment. Racing starts from 8am until 6pm. The carnival runs from 10.30am until 6pm. See ddeck.hk for more info.
Busy, but not as mad as Stanley, the Sai Kung dragon boats race into the waterfront on the Inner Port Shelter. The event starts from 8am and finishes at around 2pm, followed by a festival in Sai Square, which is located just behind the waterfront. More information can be found at skdragonboat.org
These days dragon boat racing is a major international sport, but it has been practised as a ceremonial and religious tradition for over 2,000 years.
Tuen Ng falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, usually May or June. At this time, the sun and the dragon are considered to be at their most potent.
Venerating the dragon is meant to avert misfortune and calamity and encourage rainfall, which in ancient times was vital for rice farmers in southern China.
One legend to arise out of the myths surrounding Tuen Ng is that of Qu Yuan. A Chinese court official, Qu was so fed-up with government corruption he waded into the local river holding a rock, preparing to kill himself in protest.
On hearing of this, local villagers jumped into their fishing boats to try and save him, beating drums and splashing the water to keep the evil spirits from him, while scattering rice to encourage the fish not to eat him.
Today, sticky rice wrapped in leaves is still scattered on the water in commemoration of Qu Yuan.
HOW TO DO STANLEY
Cheryl Fender, captain of top local team BGC Stormy Dragons, explains how to “do” Stanley.
“It’s a manic day with so many people paddling – a junk is the best way to view the event. Failing that, get down to Main Beach early. If you’re hoping to stay for lunch, definitely book ahead. “We started training in January as our racing season starts in March. We have a women’s team and a mixed team competing at Stanley – we’re hoping for silverware, but you never know! Look out for us in bright red shirts and black shorts.
“We’ll be relaxing with a beer on Main St afterwards, but not too much as we’re competing the following day and also the following weekend at the Dragon Boat Carnival on Victoria Harbour.
“Personally, this is a special event for me as, after 20 years, I am leaving Hong Kong this summer – a few of the girls are trying to organise a reunion for my last ever paddle in Stanley.”
Can’t get enough?
June 10-12 – Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races, Central Harbourfront. Three days of festivities and racing. This event is held on Victoria Harbour, with spectator viewing at TST East Promenade. hkdba.com.hk
June 19 – Stanley Dragon Boat Short-Course Races, a short and sweet 200m course on Stanley Main Beach. The day runs from 8am- 5pm. dragonboat.org.hk
September 18 – The 14th Sai Kung Summer Vigor, a full-day of mini dragon boat races as local teams battle it out at the Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau Public Pier, Sai Kung. Racing runs from 8am-4pm. dragonboat-hk.org