UPDATE: For 2015, the Dragon Boat Races will be at a new venue – More information.
Last weekend I fully expected to go do a little mountain biking on a new nearby trail with a friend. The plan included some trail maintenance and enjoying a day in the woods. But it rained, and then…it rained. For days before the weekend and even during the early hours of the weekend it poured on the trail. Early Saturday morning I reluctantly called off the ride.
Lisa was recruited for the day to be a crew member in a dragon boat…wait, a what? With my calendar suddenly cleared, I decided to tag along and check out the Dragon Boat Races at Victory Lake in Burns Park.
We arrived at Burns Park mid-morning with heavy clouds blanketing the sky to find what looked like a huge tailgate party. Teams were encouraged to set up tents and stake-out space. Grills and cookers were prevalent throughout the area. A stage was set up where music played and current race standings were announced. For those without their own refreshments, several local food trucks were on hand including The Southern Gourmasian, Loblolly Creamery and the Southern Salt Food Company.
Cornhole games were in abundance, folks tossing footballs, a bouncy-house for the kids and themed tents added to the tailgating feel. Lisa was paddling with the Blue Line Gunslingers (Sherwood Fraternal Order of Police). Each team pays $750 registration fee and encourages paddlers to raise $100 each for the event charity. This year the charity was the Children’s Protection Center. With more than 30 teams of 20 paddlers each, that adds up to a strong donation, this year the event total was almost $98,000.
The team was soon whisked off for their first race. Each team is guaranteed two races before contenders are whittled down to the fastest twelve. The Gunslingers had a good start and won their heat of 3 boats, but the time wasn’t as fast as it could have been. After the race they got together on dry land and worked on some technique before the next race.
I had brought our dog and realized she was getting a bit overstimulated with all the activity, so I took the opportunity between races to get her back to the quiet security of home. On my return to the event I spent my time taking photos and supporting the local food trucks.
Soon enough it was time for the team’s second bid for dragon boat immortality and I positioned myself near the boat dock to get photos of the team entering the field of battle. Suddenly there was some confusion in the team and they realized they were a paddler short. I was conscripted.
I handed my camera off to a complete stranger to keep safe (she was also holding a new baby so I figured she would understand how to take care of a precious thing), donned a life jacket and ran down the gangplank. I was quickly instructed in the finer points of using a paddle and staying in rhythm, both of which I have some experience in.
The team has a chance to practice paddling the 46 foot long boat and keeping the rhythm as they leave the dock and approach the starting buoys: listen to the drummer/caller, stare at the back of the person in front of me, don’t look to the side, paddle…got it. The starter lined us up and as soon as all three boats were properly aligned we were off.
The race takes just over one minute of intense paddling. I could sense the other boats behind us but didn’t look, I paddled and paddled and paddled. We were finally given the order to stop, we’d won this heat also. Now to wait and see if it was enough for moving up to the final 12.
We improved our time by 2 seconds to about 1:20 so I didn’t totally screw them up but it wasn’t enough. By my calculations the Gunslingers came in 13th after all teams had gone twice. The Blue Line Gunslinger team finished 5th last year with a time of 1:15:558, but just didn’t have the power in the paddles this time around.
No matter, a good time was had by all on the team and their supporters, a big chunk of dough was raised for a worthy cause, and the Gunslingers live to paddle another day.