About 4,000 athletes from 14 countries and regions are expected to descend on the city during this year’s Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival – all part of teams hoping to capture one of 24 championships. This year’s festival will take place from June 9 to 12, and will be held in a number of different locations throughout Hong Kong. The Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races – from June 10 to 12 – will be moved from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Central Harbourfront this year. Dragon boat racing took off as an international sport in 1976 with promotion by the Hong Kong Tourism Association – now the Tourism Board. Prior to the tourism board’s involvement, races in the territory were held by local fishermen. The festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, with origins dating back more than 2,000 years ago. Also known as Tuen Ng festival, the holiday commemorates the death of Chinese poet and court official, Qu Yuan. Qu was banished by the Chu king, leaving him devastated. He later drowned himself in protest against corrupt rulers. To prevent fish from eating his body, townspeople threw rice dumplings called “zongzi” into the water and beat drums. Today, dragon boat racing has evolved into a worldwide sport. One of the teams competing in this year’s festival is the Buzz Dragon Boating Society. Co-founder Alex Leung Sai-yiu describes dragon boating as the “Hong Kong sport”. “Dragon Boating for Hong Kong is like hockey in Canada,” he said. “The Hong Kong Tourism Board has done a great job promoting the sport.” Founded in 2001, Buzz Dragon Boating Society evolved from a group of 10 paddlers, to more than 60 members today, and hopes to capture one of the championships on June 9. The club was named after Scott Buzby, a paddler who passed away in 2000. Buzz has men’s, women’s and mixed teams, and regularly competes in club, local and international dragon boat races. The team consists of members from Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Great Britain and the United States. Club president, Nick Ball, has been with the club for five years. Like many who get in to dragon boating for the first time, a friend from work asked him to join and Ball went along, thinking it would be fun to try something new. However, he was not always open to the idea – even though his mother had been competing for 10 years at the time. “I thought, ‘no, it’s not for me’ and then I tried it, and I have been hooked ever since,” he said. Women’s team captain Julia Iaconelli arrived in Hong Kong four years ago. After watching the dragon boat races in Stanley, she wanted to try it for herself. “The team atmosphere [drew me to it],” she said. As club president, Ball said the most rewarding experience has been seeing the club develop from a “fun and upcoming club” to a more competitive team, with lots of success. The biggest challenge for the team is the high turnover rate, as many team members have left over the years due to job relocation or new opportunities overseas. With overhead costs of HK$200,000 per year, Ball said sponsorship was an immense help in keeping costs down. Sponsorship from organisations such as the Aberdeen Boat Club allows Buzz to use their facilities on Middle Island. Training begins in January, preparing for races between April and June. Off-season is September until December – though that only means training is held twice a week, instead of three times. Missing training days is not unusual for team members. Working overtime and travelling is a regular occurrence for them, and the club does its best to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules. However, the club does ask members to make it to at least 70 per cent of scheduled training days. Last year, Buzz found racing success with the men’s and mixed squads, taking first place in three and two races respectively. The challenge of competing in mixed races, according to Iaconelli, is finding a balance between the strengths of both genders. “The men are strong – and they know it – the ladies are calmer, which [helps] pace the men. I think that’s why our team does so well,” she said. Buzz has gained respect from many in the dragon boat community. That respect allowed them to participate in invite-only fishermen races – a rarity for a team with a significant number of foreigners. Participants are usually fishermen or decedents of fishermen, who carry their dragon boats on their vessels, place markers in open waters such as Stanley or Tai Tam Bay, and compete against one another. Buzz will be defending their mixed division title at Aberdeen on June 9. All three teams will be competing during the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival on June 11 and 12.