ITHACA, N.Y. — In July, Cayuga Lake will be host to a celebration of Asian culture and competition with the return of the Finger Lakes Dragon Boat Festival.
Fresh off a weekend race in Philadelphia, about 25 members of the Ithaca Dragon Boat Club gathered Monday to practice on Cayuga Lake. They launched in two boats from Cass Park for an hour and a half of speed, form and endurance drills.
The dragon boats hold 20 paddlers in 10 seats, with a steerer in the back. During races, a drummer sits at the front of the boat to keep the beat of paddling.
Paddling in sync is hard work, but the friendly and inclusive atmosphere make it a great activity for people of all ages and levels to join, including this sore reporter.
The upcoming Finger Lakes Dragon Boat Festival is one way to celebrate one of Asia’s premier water sports, said Siv Somchanhmavong, co-organizer of the Ithaca Dragon Boat Club and president of the Ithaca Asian American Association. Siv is a co-founder with his wife, Amy.
This year’s festival is planned for July 14 at Taughannock Falls State Park. Though it has been out of Cass Park in the past, it has migrated up to Taughannock Falls this year because of the build-up of sediment in Cayuga Inlet.
Teams from Boston, New York City, Toronto and as far as Trinidad and Tobago will compete locally this year. In addition to the racing, there will be food and cultural activities to enjoy.
Siv said they met the Trinidad and Tobago team when racing in Puerto Rico earlier this year. A youth team, between ages 13 and 18, will be coming to compete in the Finger Lakes festival, and in addition to the racing, they will also get the chance to check out local educational opportunities, Siv said. They will stay at Tompkins Cortland Community College and will visit Ithaca College, Wells College, TC3 and Cornell.
There are dragon boat races and festivals across the country. Ithaca falls under the Eastern Regional Dragon Boat Association.
Siv said he has loved dragon boat racing since he was young growing up in Laos. He has lived in Ithaca for 38 years. He said the beautiful local waterways make Ithaca a great venue for the water sport.
If anyone is interested in testing out dragon boat racing, there will be an open house from 1 to 3 p.m. June 23 at Cass Park. Practice is three times a week: Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Cass Park; and Sunday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at Cass Park. There is a membership fee for the season of $200, but people can test out paddling three times before committing.
The Finger Lakes Dragon Boat Festival will take place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. July 14 at Taughannock Falls State Park.
For more information, visit www.fingerlakesdragonboat.org.
Featured image: Members of the Ithaca Gorges team compete in Philadelphia on June 2. Provided Photo.