Dragon Boat: Culinary, cultural and competitive
I’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.
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
Sunday update: The Cinderella story was not to be.
Dragon boat team PoweR3d By Chopstix was able to overcome an injured paddler, and a shortage of team members in an early race, to win four eliminations, dethrone two top seeded teams, and get to the finals of the Novice Division Sunday in the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival competitions.
But the last three seconds out of two days of effort did them in – the margin by which they lost the gold to the Oars Are Better Than Yours team.
They were able to bounce back from the momentary disappointment of the loss to celebrate their silver-medal finish.
One element that was missing from this year’s Festival were the large boats with hand-carved dragon heads — and the flag-tossing finishes that depend on those large heads for team members to lie on.
Festival spokewoman Kelly Nelson said this was because of the sagging economy, which cut into the Festival’s budget and reduced corporate sponsorship money. “I miss the flag-tossing, but it was just too expensive for us to get the boats this year,” she said.
A photo gallery of PoweR3d By Chopstix’s pursuit of the gold in the Novice Division races Saturday and Sunday.