Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, July 29, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Boats like this one will be used in Saturday's race.

Enter the dragon boats

By Alisa Lavelle


They won't be singing one paddle, two paddle.

Instead, the 60 teams expected to compete in the fourth annual AT&T Hawaii Dragon Boat Race Saturday will be focused on the sound of one drummer pounding out the paddling rhythm for each of boats' 16 paddlers. Also on board will be a steerperson and flag catcher. The object: To retrieve a flag from a buoy and beat all other teams in completing the quarter-mile race at Ala Moana Beach Park.

The races will begin at 7 a.m.

Team divisions are novices, juniors, open (professional and non-professional), women, masters, international and military.

Practice sessions took place over the past few weeks in waters fronting the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It was grueling, with most teams comprising office workers unaccustomed to noon heat, and the dragon head of the multi-colored wooden boat seeming to grin knowing full well of their agony.

While paddlers struggle, those on shore will be treated to a full festival with entertainment, food and crafts from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. A traditional Buddhist ceremony and lion dance with firecrackers will take place from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The first dragon boats were raced 2000 years ago by Chinese fishermen trying to ensure plentiful crops. Today, dragon boat competitions take place in Hong Kong, Vancouver, Australia, Singapore, Penang, Macau, Thailand, Los Angeles, Seattle and Taiwan.

The boats are paddled in a similar way to outrigger canoes. Made in Taiwan, the Kaosiung boats are 37.5 feet long and decorated with a dragon head, tails and scaly bodies.

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