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July 16, 2010 > Dragons and island spirit descend on Fremont

Dragons and island spirit descend on Fremont

By Kevin Yin
Photos By William Mancebo

Maritime prowess was on display a week ago, in Fremont, as Quarry Lakes played host to two boat races, the Northern California Outrigger Canoe Association (NCOCA) Sprint Regatta on Saturday, July 10; and the California Dragon Boat Association (CBDA) Seventh Annual Sprint Regatta on Sunday, July 11.

An outrigger canoe is a class of canoe equipped with a support float called an outrigger which resembles a helicopter landing skid and is attached to the side of the canoe. The outrigger is designed to improve the craft's stability on the water, while sacrificing a minimum of speed and maneuverability.

Outrigger canoeing is especially popular in Hawaii, where it is considered a prized part of the islands' cultural heritage. Hawaii's influence on the sport's culture was readily apparent last Saturday, as many of the clubs participating in the race had names of Hawaiian origin, and Hawaiian chants were audible throughout the event.

Dragon Boats resemble large canoes, filled by pairs of paddlers along its length, with a drummer at the head of the boat facing back towards the crew. The drummer helps set and maintain the paddlers' pacing, as well as providing leadership for the crew.

Dragon Boats originate in ancient China, and have ceremonial significance in Chinese culture. Watching a Dragon Boat can be a mesmerizing experience; the team of 20-plus paddlers acting in unison gives the craft the aspect of a great centipede running on the water surface. The image, combined with the beating of the drum and soaring chants, makes for a very entertaining spectacle.

Both events started at 9 a.m. amid cool temperatures and overcast skies. Well before noon on both days, however, the sun burned away the morning gloom and provided the hundreds of participants and spectators with beautiful viewing weather appropriate to the buoyant atmosphere. The grounds were filled with dozens of canopy tents, providing teams, and their supporters, shelter from the sun as well as a place to plan their next race.

Club tents were adorned with banners signifying their organization. Hawaiian influence was again felt in the name selection of the outriggers clubs, with colorful appellations like "Kamali'i O Ke Kai" ("Children of the Sea"), while Dragon Boat club banners frequently (and not surprisingly) featured individually stylized dragon images.

Both events had the feel of a festival more than a mere sporting event; the alluring sights and smells of food was ever-present, and the outrigger canoe race was equipped with a PA system, over which announcements were interspersed with music.

The two races actually consisted of dozens of individual events, pitting teams (or, for outriggers, sometimes individuals) from different clubs against each other well into the afternoon, and although victory in each individual event was obviously prized, the field never lost the feeling of camaraderie that made both races so enjoyable to attend.

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