Dragon boat rookies learn to paddle

First-time paddlers always fill an important spot at Fort Dodge’s annual Dragon Boat Bash.

Some teams are made up of old hands. The local traveling team, Da Dragons, usually competes in five or six events around the state every year. On the other hand, organizers say they have more new teams this year than they’ve seen in years.

“I’ve never been in a boat at all, other than a motorized one,” said Mariah Welter, 18, of Fort Dodge.

Her teammate Cole Black, 18, Gowrie, said he’s been in a kayak before, but “I tipped over right away.”

Welter’s mom Marcy Lundberg organized this team, the Oariginal Gangsters, as a fun thing for parents to do with their graduating seniors.

“Because Mariah graduated, and most of her friends that are going to be on the team also graduated. It’s kind of their last year to do something fun like this together,” Lundberg said.

Lundberg said she’s always wanted to try dragon boating, but this is her first time.

The team gathered at the lake with another team, Law and Oarder from the Johnson Law Firm, to learn how to get 20 people in a boat paddling in unison.

The law firm had a team last year, said Ryan Baldridge. He practiced with the team, but didn’t compete.

“The hardest part is to stay in sync with your team, and not beat your paddles together,” he said.

Before getting in the water, Karolee Wilson, of Da Dragons, gave instruction.

“You’re going to sit with your outside hip twisted a little to the front, so you can get a push with your leg when you make your stroke,” Wilson said, “so you’re not just using your arms and making yourself tired, you’re using your core and your leg.”

The boat is steered by a person in the back, or stern. The drummer has to call out commands given by the sternsman so the whole boat can hear, she said, especially after the race. In addition to paddling in sync, the group had to learn to respond to commands like draw and pry to get the boat lined up at the start. Draw means to reach out and pull water towards the boat, while pry means put the paddle in close and push water away.

The coast command can also be vital.

“If anybody falls out, the stern is going to call a coast. Make sure you listen to him, or you’re going to be beating the person in the water with your paddles or possibly the boat,” Wilson said.

In all, learning to paddle is not that hard.

“Just about everybody can do it,” she said. “Most people really enjoy it once they try it.”

And once people get over the hurdle of trying it, they get addicted, she said.

Event organizers Linda Donner and Barb Michaels are enthusiastic about a large number of new teams this year. Donner said there are 28 teams signed up, and all but two are local teams.

“We’re looking at the largest crowd since the year 2000, team-wise,” said Michaels.

The teams are diverse; one team will be sophomore cheerleaders and wrestlers from Fort Dodge Senior High, and the REC has a team this year as well.

“It’s really a combination of all different kinds of teams this year, not just businesses,” Michaels said.

The event’s sponsor, CJ Bio America, will present the champion’s trophy.

“We’re going to feature some Korean food in our concessions to incorporate the culture of our friends from CJ Bio America,” she said. Chef Michael Hirst from Iowa Central Community College is in charge of the food.

A silent auction sponsored by the Fighting Angels Abreast team will raise money for Trinity Regional Medical Center’s cancer center, as will the Quack for the Cure duck races.

Ducks are available now from unitypoint.org/fortdodge/quack-for-the-cure. For $5 per toy duck, or less when buying in bulk, people get the chance to win prizes Friday night.

This year instead of picking the winning ducks out of the water, the ducks will actually race on some type of waterslide, Donner said.

Spots are still available on the open youth team.

“We let any youth 11-17 come out and join. We have two practices coming up for that,” she said. “If there’s any kid that wants to come out and paddle, there’s just a per-person registration fee.”

Practices will be held today and Wednesday. Donner said those who miss the practice but still want to participate will be able to join the team. For more information visit badgerlakedragonboating.com or call Donner at 571-9642.