A different kind of boating took place along the Mohawk River on Sunday.
The air was filled with cheers, shouts and the faint pounding of drums in the distance, as teams raced dragon boats for the Dragons Alive Festival.
The third annual event featured a dozen teams racing and mingling at the marine. Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Regional Food Bank. In addition to racing, team members and other attendees could enter to win raffle prizes and get temporary dragon tattoos. The two goals were to raise money for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY and introduce more of the community to the sport of Dragon Boating, organizers said.
Dragon Boating features 20 paddlers, a steersperson and a drummer in a boat that measures 40 feet long and weighs about 500 pounds. The sport originated in China hundreds of years ago, and now is slowly spreading through the eastern United States, one of the event organizers said. In addition to being a team-oriented sport, participants said it’s a great full-body workout for people of any age or ability.
“It’s a combination of the individual effort to paddle, with the synchronization of coordinating with the whole team,” said Louisa Matthew, from Greenwich.
The event was organized and run by local residents who participate on the local Dragons Alive boating team, which meets on Monday and Thursday evenings at Mohawk Valley Marine. Community volunteers worked different stands at the event, and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, made an appearance.
Teams participating in Sunday’s festival included the Fire Breathers, the Dragon Rays, the Westerows, the Paddle Bots and Hey Wait!
Two boats at a time would go out into the Mohawk River and race 200 meters. Sheila Platt, one of the event organizers, said races at other events can go for 500 or 1,000 meters typically.
Platt said planning for the festival started in January. Preparations included reaching out to companies to help promote and sponsor the event, as well as publicizing the sport itself in the area.
Prior to getting into the dragon boats, teams would gather to do stretches in unison and discuss the proper paddling technique.
“If you don’t want to get wet, don’t get in the boat,” one woman told her teammates.
Teams consisted mostly of co-workers and friends. Stephanie Primero, from Albany, said she attended the event last year and was inspired to get a team together this year. She recruited co-workers and friends, and put out messages seeking other members to fill out the 21-person squad. Her team ended up consisting mostly of employees of the Albany City School District and office workers from the New York state Senate.
While in some cases team members weren’t familiar with each other prior to getting into the boat, Florence Lynds, one of the festival organizers, said being out on the water paddling together is a good way to form a sense of community.
“You work together as a team,” she said. “You feel a part of something larger.”