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August 24, 2010
The waters of the Neuse River off of Oriental turned in to a race course Saturday as the town staged its first ever Dragon Boat Race and Festival. Nine teams — each with 21 members — paddled a 200-meter line between the Lou Mac Park Pier and High Street.Dragon Boat Race in Oriental. The three finalists in Oriental’s First Annual Dragon Boat Races. Deaton’s “Paddle Mania” team, in the boat closest to shore, would win with a time of 1 minute and 7.8 seconds.
The winning team was the crew from Deaton’s, who went by the team name “Paddle Mania”. It was a photo finish between the second and third place finishers in the final race. The team, “Blazing Paddles” edged out “Team Norman” by about 35/100ths of a second.The course was 200 meters between the Lou Mac Pier and the end of High Street. The Deaton’s team crossed the finish line (see red ball in water) almost 5 seconds ahead of the next team, Blazing Paddles, in the green boat. Second and third place was determined by a photo finish, with just a third of a second separating Blazing Paddles and Team Norman.
The sport was a new one to just about everyone in the races, and to make their rookie run even more interesting — and wet — the Neuse River served up 10-15 mile an hour winds, almost right on the dragons noses on the bows of the boats. Boats and paddlers got very wet, with one boat even capsizing after finishing the course. On another team’s boat, a paddler collapsed. Yet over all, the takeaway message from Saturday’s race was that a new tradition may have been born in Oriental.In one of the heats the “Pirates for PAWS (foreground) competed against the “Sea Ninjas.”
The sport of Dragon Racing has grown in the US in recent years thanks to doctors recommending that breast cancer survivors do it as a way to fend off further illnesses. For the town of Oriental, the dragon connection seemed a logical match. Dragon boat races have been happening for 2000 years in China, and Oriental has not been shy in the past about appropriating Asian themes, for example the New Year’s dragon and the dragon that keeps watch over the Duck Pond.Moments after winning the Dragon Boat competition, the Deaton’s crew paddled back to the Town Beach and stopped for a moment for a photo.
Flora Moorman of Downeast Destinations had talked for a few years of bringing the activity to Oriental. This year she contracted with a Knoxville, TN company, Dynamic Dragon Boats, which supplied four boats and staffers who could coach the teams. Teams paid around $700 a boat to take part in the event.Jeff Aydelette and Flora Moorman, who organized Oriental’s First Dragon Boat Races. At right is Penny Behling whose Knoxville, TN company staged the event. Among the announcments Jeff made was that there was a sign-up sheet to start an Oriental Dragon Boat Association. By the end of the day he said, it had garnered more than 50 names.
Aside from the action on the water, a table with a sign-up sheet was attracting a lot of activity on Saturday. More than fifty people signed up to form an Oriental Dragon Boat Association. Nothing has been formalized yet, but there was a lot of talk about acquiring a dragon boat so that people here could take part in the sport more than just once a year.Second place went to the “Blazing Paddles” team led by Jerry Dasson,(center). The award was a silver painted oar.
That would mean a boat that could be used for practice and possible competition with teams in other cities. One idea being floated: having a group of woodworkers or boatbuilders make one of the 40+ foot long boats, just as, a few years ago, they built the Optimist dinghies for the youth sailing school.Third place was Team Norman. (Team Norman was not, as many may have thought, the Village Restaurant crew led by Brantley Norman. Rather, it was that of Norman Sanderson, a Republican who is running for the NC House.)
Jerry Dasson, captain of the Blazing Paddles team was happy with the response to the Dragon Races. For a few years, he says, he had tried to get people interested in the sport. That job, he says, has been made easier now that the town experienced the race on Saturday.
Ahead: more photos, a capsize, a First Responder responds via boat, the teams’ tents.