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Westbury team to race in dragon boat fest

Alan Chan, 20, of Queens, encourages his fellow

Alan Chan, 20, of Queens, encourages his fellow teammates of the Asian United and Cultural Exchange Council team to row at the practice trials of the Hong Kong dragon boat race at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. (July 28, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

Next weekend's Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in Queens will include a team sponsored by Hyde Park resident Hin Tsang, who sees his involvement in the sport as a link to his Chinese ancestors.

But the festival will also include New York Community Bancorp's Queens Dragons racing team, which boasts members of Dominican, Spanish, Albanian and Polish descent.

Festival chairman Henry Wan, 55, said participants from Long Island and eastern Queens make up about 30 percent of competitors. The event, he said, has always been multicultural, with the goal of strengthening Hong Kong's ties to New York City.

"It was never meant to be strictly ethnic," Wan said.

Following a series of trial races Saturday and Sunday at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, some 180 teams will descend on the park next weekend for the 22nd edition of the festival.

Dragon boat racing has its roots in a 2,300-year-old Chinese tale about a despondent poet who drowned himself in the Ni Lo River.

The 40-foot teakwood boats seat 12 paddlers, plus a skipper who steers and a drummer who keeps time. A sleek dragon head and tail are affixed to the prow and stern.

Roberto Pimentel, 28, of Holbrook, took up dragon boat racing four years ago after seeing a flier in his NYCB office.

His job is to beat out a rhythm of more than 60 strokes a minute for his team of bank employees, most of whom work in Westbury.

"It's not so much about the power; it's about the technique and coordination," said teammate Gus Condiles, 55, of Whitestone, Queens.

For the Queens Dragons, the event is more about fun and exercise than cultural awareness.

Not so for Tsang, 39, an event planner who immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong 25 years ago. Tsang said he sponsors his team, which consists of Asian-American college students, as a way to pass on Chinese traditions.

"It's a transfer to them -- the new generation," he said.

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