On Monday, Dynamic Dragon Boats came to Oak Ridge to prepare locals for the city’s Inaugural Dragon Boat Race scheduled for May 31.
Monday’s event served as a beginner’s guide to the city’s first event, but also hosted young adults in Emerald Youth Foundation’s JustLead group.
Penny Behling and her husband, Chris, own the Dragon Boat company, a Knoxville firm that participates in dragon boat events around the country. The pair said the sport is really gaining interest in the Knoxville area, with inaugural events in Oak Ridge and Blount County scheduled this spring and summer, as well as Knoxville’s Dragon Boat race June 21.
Dragon boats are long canoe-like boats adorned with the faces of Chinese dragons. They hold teams of 20 with participants arranged by size.
Behling said dragon boat festivals are gaining steam in the area simply because dragon boating is easy to do. This year, she has five scheduled events in Tennessee, and more nationwide.
“It’s very popular,” she said. “People realize they can do it and that it doesn’t take a super fit human being. This is something anybody can do.”
The Oak Ridge Rotary Association subcontracted Behlings’s organization to organize and execute the race. They are providing equipment, training, and the web-based registration for the event.
The ORRA hopes to host nearly 30 teams to race in May and already has “in the neighborhood of eight to 10 teams,” according to Keith Kahl, a member of the ad hoc organization committee for the event.
“(ORRA) just got tired of doing the same things,” Kahl said of previous fundraising efforts. “A lot of times, you looked around the room and it was just Rotarians buying tickets from other Rotarians.”
So, they decided get the community involved.
“We saw the success (dragon boat festivals) had in other cities in the South, so we decided to go for that,” said Kahl.
Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson, who also serves as president of the Oak Ridge Rotary Club, is excited to give locals the opportunity to learn about the boats and have the opportunity to race in May. He wants to improve the area by bringing more activities to the waterfront, and he hopes the renovation of New China Palace will be a great start. That building is now being renovated to provide boat and bicycle rentals and will house a new bathroom facility.
“If you’re going to be a world class rowing venue, you’d better have some bathrooms,” Watson said.
The inauguration course will be between 300 and 500 meters. Behling says that will be a good length for people who are just starting out with dragon boats.
Teams can register online with Dynamic, and $750 “will get you a spot on a boat,” according to Kahl, with proceeds going to charities around the area once the organization has raised enough to fund the next year’s race.
Prizes will be awarded to the winners of the event.
Practice sessions will be held on the days leading up to the event and teams from all over the country are expected to participate in the Oak Ridge event.
ORRA is hoping this event will be the start of an iconic festival to be held annually on the river.
You can visit http://oakridge.racedragonboats.com to find more information about or register for the May 31 event.
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.