It's Hong Kong Dragon Boat Racing weekend once again in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, as seemingly endless waves of paddlers churned the water Saturday on Meadow Lake. This is the festival's 27th year, and organizers reported that a record number of participants—more than 2,500 racers on some 200 different teams—are competing for a wide range of prizes, from cash and charitable donations to round-trip plane tickets to Hong Kong.

In fact, there were so many paddlers, drummers (who scream and pound and urge their team on from the bow), and steer persons in the park yesterday, either out on the water or relaxing in sprawling "athlete's village" of tents, that racers appeared to outnumber spectators, most of whom were more interested in visiting corporate-sponsored booths offering swag than the outcome of the sporting event. Needless to say, race participants seemed to be having way more fun than the line-waiters.

In addition to the boating and the freebies, a number of cultural institutions are on hand all weekend at the festival, with the main stage featuring a full slate of traditional Chinese dance, music, and martial arts performances. A modest selection of food vendors have been brought in to feed those not invited to the feasts going down under the team's tents.

According to legend, the origins of dragon boat racing are steeped in poetry and political activism. Per the HKDBF website:

Dragon Boat racing is based on a legend of the ancient patriot-poet Qu Yuan who lived from 340-278 BC. He was a Court Minister who advocated reforms for his home state of Chu. The King of Chu, however, disliked him for it and banished him from the state.

In exile, he wandered the country writing poetry expressing his concerns for his homeland and its people. In 278 BC when Qu Yuan heard that his home had been invaded, he jumped into the Ni Lo River and drowned himself.

Legend has it that local fishermen raced out to the river to save him, but couldn't. To prevent his body from being eaten by the fish, they threw rice dumplings into the water as an offering to his heroic spirit. This was the beginning of Dragon Boat Racing.

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival continues all day Sunday, with races beginning at 8:00 a.m. and the finals in each division (Corporate Invitational, Youth, Seniors, Non-Profit Invitational, etc.) starting at around 4:00. The event is free. To get there using public transportation, take the 7 train to Mets-Willet Point and then a shuttle bus to Meadow Lake.