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Dragon boat races to highlight Asian culture

About half of those paddling

About half of those paddling "have never been on a dragon boat," said Barbara Ransome, of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. Credit: Marisol Diaz

Feel the rhythm of the beat on Saturday at Port Jefferson’s third annual dragon boat race.

The village’s chamber of commerce is hosting the event beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Mayor Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park. Teams of 22 — 20 paddlers, 1 drummer and 1 sweep (also known as a steerer) — will compete in the ancient Chinese watersport. The drummer leads the paddlers during the race using the drum beat to indicate the frequency and synchronicity of the paddlers’ strokes. The pulsation of the drum beats is considered the heartbeat of the dragon boat.

The daylong festival, organized in conjunction with Stony Brook University, is intended to highlight Asian culture and features on-land elements as well: drumming, dances and songs from Chinese and Korean performance groups including a local youth choir and the Long Island Chinese Folk Dance Group. Japanese karate and ninjutsu teams also will kick things up.


The main attraction, however, can be found at sea, where dragon boat races will be held throughout the day.

The festival is celebrated in China in commemoration of Qu Yuan, a Chinese court official who drowned in the Miluo River in 278 B.C.

“The boats represent the villagers’ frantic attempt to save a noble patriot,” says Guodong Zhang, president of the Long Island Chinese American Association. “The splashing paddles and beating drums scare the fish that would eat such an idealistic corpse.”

Over the past 2,000 years, the event has become the most important festival in the spring season throughout China, Zhang says. And it continues to make waves and grow in popularity in Port Jefferson, the only Long Island town where it has been held regularly.

This year, 30 teams will compete on 30-foot canoes in three-minute heats that cover roughly 250 meters.

Paddlers sit facing forward in the boat. The sweep, known also as the steersman, steers the dragon boat with a sweep oar rigged at the rear of the boat.

Experience aboard a dragon race boat is not required to take part.

“Fifty percent of the paddlers have never been in a dragon boat,” says Barbara Ransome, of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.

Most of the entrants in the races formed teams well before the festival and some competitors signed up solo at a cost of $35, which includes use of a provided boat.


Part of the inspiration for the festival was to have a more collaborative relationship with Stony Brook University — many of the school’s Asian students compete in the race, according to chamber members.

Says Zhang, “I hope people will appreciate the diversity of Asian culture in our Long Island community, and like the spirit of healthy competition of dragon boat race, and recognize it as a ‘new’ tradition.”

Port Jefferson Dragon Boat Race Festival

WHEN | WHERE 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17 at Harborfront Park, 101A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson. Rain or shine.

INFO 631-473-1414,



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