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No Loch Ness Monsters, but 2011 Oklahoma Regatta promises racing dragons

Photos Provided by: Georgia Read, Read Studios

By Joan Menton
The City Sentinel Staff

For the first time in Oklahoma, the National Dragon Boat Championships will be held in Oklahoma City as part of the Oklahoma Regatta Festival Sept. 29-Oct. 2, organizers said.

The debut of the 2000-year-old water racing sport promises adrenaline-laced excitement during the free, four-day event, which draws tens of thousands of spectators.
Lead Oklahoma Regatta sponsors are Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Devon Energy Corp. Oklahoma City University is the primary organization that holds traditional competitive water sports on the river year-around. OCU is helping coordinate and illuminate some of this year’s regatta activities.

A Dragon Boat is a paddle watercraft traditionally made of teak wood in various designs and sizes. The sport and specially-crafted racing vehicles was originally conceived and advanced by the Chinese, and built in the Pearl River Delta Region of Southern China.

Modern Dragon Boats still resemble wooden canoes that include a decorative dragonhead on the bow.

Its modern popularity took off in Hong Kong in about 1976 and it’s now becoming one of the fastest-growing team water sports. The ornamental boats provide speed and beauty to competition that has become popular amongst spectators at regattas around the world.

It is similar to outrigger canoe racing but different than timed, competitive rowing and kayaking.

In Dragon Boat racing, there are many elements heightening the race.

“Dragon Boat Racing is an exhilarating sport where 100 people can be on the water for the same race,” says Dragon Boat race director Aasirm Saleh.
And when the starting horn blows, off they go. Then, the excitement begins.

With both 10 and 20-person boats, the energy of fierce splashes and oars stabbing the water around 70 to 80 times per minute, along with a drummer at the front of the vessel rapidly beating the drums to spur the crew, the sport tends to pump up spectators.

“Dragon Boating is incredibly accessible; when people see just how exhilarating the racing is they can’t help but want to try this sport,” said Saleh.
Dragon Boat USA member clubs will be racing in Oklahoma City for the first time for their national championship during the OG&E NightSprints beginning at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 on the Oklahoma River.

Dragon boat racing at the Oklahoma Regatta Festival will include 200 and 500-meter distances.

“We’re very excited to host the Dragon Boat USA National Championships and further showcase the growth of this exciting water sport along with the growth of the Oklahoma City Boathouse District,” said Saleh.

And for the first time, some spectators will see the event near or even inside the newly-christened Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s finish line tower.

Because of the crowds expected, spectators are still encouraged to bring chairs and or blankets to use in the lawn areas that will be available along the North shore. There will be live entertainment, food from area restaurants along with a wine and beer garden. Free parking is available. There will be a fireworks display nightly.

Note: Managing Editor Stacy Martin contributed to this story.

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