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Dragon boats offer colorful competition in downtown Tampa

Published:   |   Updated: April 27, 2013 at 09:56 PM

TAMPA For the SOS team, dragon boat racing is about more than having fun and spending the day out in the sunshine – although that is certainly a perk.

The “Save Our Sisters” team races to promote healthy lifestyles after people find out they have cancer.

Every member of the Miami-based team is a breast cancer survivor, and every one of them helped paddle their dragon boat across the finish line today during the annual Tampa Bay Dragon Boat Races. The team won first place out of the three teams that competed in the breast cancer survivors’ race.

Fifty teams came from all over to compete in the daylong event at Cotanchobee Fort Brook Park downtown. The Puff Dragon Boat Racing Team from Miami won first place overall.

“This is a great way to highlight our beautiful riverfront,” said Sally Ordway, who came out to watch the races with her family. “It’s just a unique event. I wish more people knew about it.”

Dragon boat racing has its roots in the Chinese culture. Each boat is 45 feet long, with one person steering, one person drumming to keep the pace and 20 paddlers.

Ordway first heard about dragon boat racing years ago when a friend invited her to be on a team. She wasn’t able to do it then, but her curiosity about the sport is what brought her out Saturday. Now, she said, she might reconsider joining a team.

“It looks like such a fun thing,” she said.

More than 4,000 people came either to compete or watch the races and performances at Asia Fest, the multicultural celebration at the west end of the park. Spectators parked themselves on benches and in lawn chairs along the Riverwalk and cheered as the boats slipped past.

Paula Jennings, marketing director for the event, said this was the first year the races started in the Cotanchobee Park area rather than the Tampa Convention Center docks. The channel is well protected and there are lots of nearby venues that racers and spectators can visit while they wait.

“I think it’s better visually and everybody’s closer together,” she said. “I think it’s worked well.”

Joe Longobardi, coach of the Jacksonville-based Jax Fire Dragons, has been racing dragon boats for years with his wife. He said the club tries to support and compete in as many Florida events as possible.

Tampa’s riverfront and supportive paddling community always makes his experiences here memorable. “Tampa has always been one of my favorite venues,” he said.


Ebehrman@Tampatrib.com

(813)259-7691

@LizBehrmanTBO

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