Thousands brave the heat to take part in Sai Kung dragon boat races

Thousands brave soaring temperatures to pay their homage to historic ritual

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 June, 2014, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 June, 2014, 2:37am

Soaring temperatures and an algal bloom were not enough to keep thousands of paddlers and spectators away from the city's famed dragon boat festivities.

Races took place across the city to mark the Tuen Ng Festival, a ritual that has roots stretching back more than 2,000 years.

In Sai Kung, the smell of sunscreen and the sea breeze infused the promenade as crowds thronged to the Dragon Boat Racing Gala in temperatures of up to 34 degrees Celsius.

About 3,000 paddlers from 180 crews - ranging from established local clubs to novice university teams - vied for glory in 35 events under blue skies.

While the crowds were in a festive mood, dining on roast pig and enjoying lion dances, the competitors were deadly serious. Many had trained intensely since the season began in March.

Izzy Siu, captain of the Sai Kung-based Aguaholics paddle club, said a friendly rivalry had developed between teams made up of expatriates and those consisting of locals from Sai Kung.

He said the sport, once dominated by rich clubs, had grown thanks to an influx of new teams. "As the sport becomes more accessible, it is also getting bigger and more popular," Siu said.

Nicky Lee Kwok-man, 46, of the famed Sai Kung-based Blue Sky Sports Club, has paddled since he was a teenager. He urged more youngsters to try it out.

"It was a different time back in my day. Kids weren't only into going out drinking and playing video games," he said. "Our club is trying to attract new talent."

In Stanley, the Sun Life International Dragon Boat Championships attracted 5,500 paddlers from more than 278 teams.

Stanley Main Beach was packed with paddlers and beachgoers dressed in funky outfits.

Team 438 C'est Sympa, one of the few non-corporate teams, won the event's outstanding outfit award for their tribal garb.

Other races were held in Aberdeen, Sha Tin, Tai Po, Tuen Mun and several outlying islands.

The tradition commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a poet born in 343 BC. Qu killed himself in a river and, to keep fish from devouring his body, villagers took to boats, splashing with their paddles, beating drums and throwing rice. Yesterday, there was a scare for those looking to keep up the tradition when the Leisure and Cultural Services Department issued a red tide warning due to an algal bloom in Repulse Bay. Stanley was not affected.