GAINESVILLE — Athletes armed with paddles and positioned inside a brightly painted boat with a dragon face on the bow rip through the water with ease.
One would expect to find such sights only in the Far East. However, a visit Saturday to the Lake Lanier Olympic Venue off Clarks Bridge Road in Gainesville for the Atlanta Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival will hold such sights.
Beginning at 7 a.m. the festival will kick off with a ritual of the dragon boats being blessed by a Buddhist monk. The first race of this cultural event will launch at 7:45 a.m. and races continue until noon.
Heats among the teams will occur every 10 minutes, according to the festival website, www.dragonboatatlanta.com. Each team must have a minimum of 12 paddlers but no more than 20.
When the event was founded in 1994, just eight boats competed. Last year, more than 50 teams raced. This year marks an increase to 72 teams.
The opening entertainment will feature the Dotting of the Eye ceremony followed by performances by several Asian artists. The dragon boat races will resume 1:10 p.m. and continue until 3 p.m.
To close out the festivities, the festival will feature the 2,000-meter race, which begins at 3:40 p.m. at the finish line tower.
While spectators watch the races for free, food will be available for purchase including Chinese cuisine and Cambodia dishes. Cash is the preferred method of payment.
Parking at the venue is limited and costs $10 per car. Free off-site parking is available at Hall County Federal Credit Union, 2601 Limestone Parkway, and the Amazing Grace Baptist Church, 145 Clarks Bridge Road. Shuttle buses charging $2 per person will run continuously.