Dragon Boat: Culinary, cultural and competitive

Sunday, July 26, 2009

’ve never tasted the Monkey Balls. The line is always too long.

But if you’re brave enough to wait it out and order these meatballs-on-a-stick, you’ll be honored with a clanging bell and a yell of “MONKEY BALLS!” from Thai Pepper’s servers that echoes throughout the food court of the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival.

Monkey Balls are just one of the culinary, cultural and competitive features of the festival, which takes place for the ninth year this Saturday and Sunday along the northeast shore of Sloan’s Lake in Denver.

The centerpiece, of course, is the series of dragon boat time trials and races that run throughout each day from about 9 am until 5:30 pm. More than 50 teams will compete in five divisions this year.

Want to try paddling a dragon boat yourself? Sign up for Dragon Boating 101, a class starting at 1 p.m. each day that ends with an actual race. Twenty bucks gets you a paddle, a lifejacket, a seat on a boat, and training. Register before class time at the team registration tent, or online.

Don’t miss the Awakening the Dragon ceremony Saturday morning, when Buddhist monks bless the boats and pupils are painted on the eyes of the figureheads to give them sight. A dancing 75-foot dragon leads the parade to the lake, following a “pearl” carried by one of the dancers.

Although dragon boat racing is Chinese in origin, the festival celebrates Asian cultures all around the Pacific Rim, from Indonesia, Thailand and the Hmong people to Korea, Japan and Hawaii.

In order to reduce the carbon footprint, the event no longer provides parking at Invesco Field with shuttle buses to the lake. Instead, the festival recommends biking, scootering, walking, or using scattered-site parking areas or using scheduled mass transit.

Be sure to bring lots of water, The best viewing areas for the races are along the shore with not much shade, and the forecast for the weekend is for hot and partly cloudy.

And tell me if the Monkey Balls are worth the wait!

Saturday update: PoweR3d By Chopstix, made up primarily of members of the Asian Student Alliance at CU-Denver, is one of the teams competing in the Adult Novice division of the Dragon boat competitions at Sloan’s Lake this weekend.

With a time of 1 minute, 19 seconds in their first 250-meter trial, they think they are in good shape for their competitions Sunday, “but we can do better,” says team member Joe Nguyen, also editor of AsiaXpress.com

This gallery of photographs shows how they spent the day Saturday. Tomorrow’s update will tell how they finished in the competition.


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