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Affinities: How to Race Your Dragon

Our pictorial study of uniquely Bay Area tribes.

SLIDESHOW

Christine Knobel

(1 of 18)

Brian Roy

(2 of 18)

Michael Reyes

(3 of 18)

Calvin Yu

(4 of 18)

Barbara Ionescu

(5 of 18)

Vince Yang

(6 of 18)

Rob Grigor

(7 of 18)

Phyllis Ritchie

(8 of 18)

Kelvin Jaing

(9 of 18)

Diane Newton-Shaw

(10 of 18)

David Gao

(11 of 18)

Wally Choo

(12 of 18)

Sandy Fernando

(13 of 18)

Dennis Dea

(14 of 18)

Debra Shorter Jones

(15 of 18)

Jonathan Samn

(16 of 18)

Darcy Graham

(17 of 18)

Alejandro Hayes and Lolita

(18 of 18)

 

See all the Affinities photo shoots here.

Hans Wu discovered the sport of dragon boating 15 years ago as a lonely thirtysomething venture capitalist on an extended work assignment in Canada. “Thankfully, when you throw 22 people into a 45-foot boat, it’s like instant family,” he says. The narrow, painted boats are unusual beasts, fronted by a snarling dragon head and powered by frantic paddlers. Since his return to San Francisco, Wu, now 48, has been the race director for the International Dragon Boat Festival—the largest such fest in the United States—which welcomes over 100 crews to the Bay Area each September. Participants, who range from high schoolers to octogenarians, practice anywhere from three times a week to three times a year and design their own jerseys. (The Alcatraz Paddling Club, for example, wears orange suits printed on the back with prisoner numbers.) Despite the sport’s Chinese origins, Bay Area boaters are uncommonly diverse: The Live Love Survive team comprises cancer survivors; Eye of the Dragon is a sight-impaired crew; and the Golden Dragons all clock in at over 70 years old. Beyond San Francisco, a disproportionate number of the fest’s crews hail from Canada, an unlikely dragon boat hotbed—they trade their hockey sticks for paddles, Wu hypothesizes. “The Canadians have been dominating us the past few years,” he laments of the annual rivalry. “We call it the Canadian curse.” Fittingly, the winners’ gold medals are from China.

 

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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