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Gail Pohl described it as the closest thing to flying.

Siv Somchanhmavong called it NASCAR on water.

Luminina’s Hope Chest Buffalo Niagara Dragon Boat Festival certainly is a show like no other.

Forty teams of 22 crammed into long, narrow boats with a dragon’s head on one end and a tail on the other to race Saturday on windswept Lake LaSalle at the University at Buffalo’s North Campus.

The third annual event showcased a Chinese sport whose popularity is booming internationally.

Spectators flocked around Baird Point to watch the 250-meter races, which lasted a little more than a minute each and pitted four teams against each other. Dragon boating teams consist of 20 paddlers who sit side-by-side on 10 benches, a drummer and a steer person.

“When the paddlers’ adrenaline is running and that gun goes off ... they really move that boat,” said Pohl, a steer person on one of Hope Chest’s two teams of breast cancer survivors. “It is like flying across the water. It is a lot of fun.”

“It’s like canoeing but more aggressive and with 20 of your closest friends,” said Somchanhmavong, coach of the Ithaca Gorges Dragons, a club team. “I would describe it as NASCAR on water, because we go pretty fast out there.”

A mix of corporate and community teams, mostly from Western New York, competed.

Participants said dragon boating isn’t too difficult – as long as you stay in sync with your teammates and paddle to the steady beat of the drum.

“It’s about team and getting it together,” said Meg Keane, a member of the Buffalo Firefighters Local 282 team. “It’s not super hard. Anyone can do it, but it’s all just about working together as a team and paddling at the same time.”

The festival benefits Hope Chest, an organization that offers free fitness and nutritional programs to breast cancer survivors.

“It’s wonderful,” said Anne Kist, director of the Hope Chest programs and coach of its dragon boating teams. “If it wasn’t for these teams coming out and joining in, we probably couldn’t do what we do with the girls. The mission is to empower these breast cancer survivors after their treatments and surgeries and get them on their way to a healthier lifestyle.”

email: scampbell@buffnewws.com