Oahu holds annual dragon boat races
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Leidemann
Ryan de Leon wanted to see something Hawaiian during his first full weekend in the Islands. So his landlord took him to the dragon boat races off Ala Moana Beach Park yesterday.
"It was definitely something different," said de Leon, who not only saw the races for the first time but got to paddle in one, as well.
"It was fun and challenging, learning to be in sync with all the other paddlers," said de Leon, 23, who arrived in Honolulu from Mission Viejo, Calif., last week to attend the University of Hawai'i as a geography student.
Joanne Houng, a member of the Hawai'i chapter of the Taiwanese Association of America who is renting an apartment to de Leon and his girlfriend, Brianne Wada, said she thought the races would give the couple a fun introduction to Hawai'i's multicultural experience.
The dragon boats are part of a 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition that first appeared in Hawai'i about 10 years ago and have since become a regular feature of the Honolulu summer festival circuit.
The traditional multicolored boats decorated with fierce dragon heads, tails and scaly bodies require crews of 16 paddlers, a drummer, a steersman and a flag catcher who go head to head in races against other teams.
While this year's crowd of spectators was down from the more than 10,000 who saw the first races in Honolulu in 1996, there was no lack of enthusiasm among the paddlers and others who came out for two days of competition.
"There's a lot of fun and camaraderie," said Chuck Ross, who was part of the Po'ola Canoe Club team that took first place in the open division during the early years of the Honolulu races and returned to do it again yesterday.
Ross' 13-year-old daughter, Haley, went to the beach at Ala Moana yesterday expecting to watch the races and ended up riding the nose of the dragon and reaching out to capture the winner's flag as the boat skimmed past the finish line in one of the early heats.
"Oh, my arms are so sore," said Haley's friend, Hailey Berg, a 12-year-old Kapolei Middle School student who paddled in a race for the first time. "But it was fun."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann said the city-sponsored event was all about fun, health and keeping cultural traditions alive in Honolulu.
And he stood on the shore and cheered yesterday as another new tradition was upheld: For the second year in a row, a team from the mayor's office defeated the City Council team in one of the featured races.
Reach Mike Leidemann at firstname.lastname@example.org.