The annual Dragon Boat Carnival kicked off on the Tsim Sha Tsui side of Victoria Harbour yesterday with more than 5,000 paddlers and 160 teams set to compete over three days of festivities.
The hypnotic beat of African drums lent the opening ceremony an exotic atmosphere and a sense of excitement, while the traditional, brightly coloured dragon dance that followed reminded all in attendance of the festival's 2,000-year-old cultural roots.
Australian Julia Rahim, 50, arrived just as the event was getting started, although the thunderstorms at midday had nearly kept her away.
"I've been watching the races and taking photos. The atmosphere has been good," she said, as crowds cheered for their favourite teams and competitors exchanged "friendly jeering".
As well as local teams, there was also a strong turnout of international competitors.
Captain Georgina Wakim of the Auroras, made up of paddlers from the Australian national team, described the opening day as fantastic.
The popularity of the sport in China was clear from the scale of the event, she said.
"The whole environment, the colour, the different water conditions, have all made a huge impact on how wonderful and alive the sport is today in Hong Kong," Wakim said.
Captain and coach Robert Clark, 46, of the Space Dragons from the United States, said conditions in Victoria Harbour made paddling difficult at times.
"They are conditions we're not used to," he said.
"It's not the wind, but it's a big bay, and even though they have those boats out there as a blockade, there are still big swells in the water. So, it was pretty much trial by fire."
He said that while dragon boating is growing in popularity in Western countries, it remains largely a "hobby sport".
Fortunately, the worst of the weather was kept at bay, allowing spectators to enjoy the races without having to worry too much about keeping dry.
Local team captain Mac Tik-weng, 27, of the Diocesan Boys' School Old Boys, said the carnival was a great chance for the public to have fun and support the sport.
Captain Gianni Aprea, 40, of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, said that the event showed just how competitive the sport was.
"People really do take it seriously and take a lot of pride in what they do," he said.