Gig Harbor’s dragon boat team is improving quickly. The team had a strong showing at the 2016 Seattle Dragon Boat Festival in late July, taking first place out of four races and winning two medals.
The team took bronze in the Novice Division and gold in the Novice Community Division at the festival, which was held on South Lake Union. The festival attracted more than 30 teams from Dragon Boat Clubs in the Pacific Northwest, southwest Canada and as far as San Francisco. More than 10,000 spectators lined the shores of South Lake Union to cheer on the approximately 1,000 local and visiting athletes.
This was the third competition the Gig Harbor team had participated in, and was also its most successful showing.
“We were extremely pleased and surprised,” said Kurt Grimmer, a member of the PenMet Parks board of directors and one of the team’s coaches. “We did a lot of practicing and preparing for this. We practiced our starts and our endurance.”
The hard work paid off.
“The team really rose to the occasion, finishing first in three out of four race heats,” said lead stroker Margaux Serock. “Stroke pace and timing are crucial. We work on them all the time. With every race, we learn more and work more on our timing with each other. That continues to make us stronger, which of course makes for a lot of fun.”
The team holds five practices per week. Currently, Gig Harbor has one dragon boat and about 45 participants. The boat has a capacity of 20 people.
“We’re all still learning a lot about proper technique and stroke,” Grimmer said. “It’s all about having fun. That’s what these races are all about. There’s terrific camaraderie between the clubs.”
People of all ages (older than 16) can participate in the dragon boat program. The team has members that range from their 30s to their late 70s.
“It’s really impressive — the vast majority are in their late-50s to mid-60s,” Grimmer said. “The reason why? It’s a cardio workout but it’s low-impact. It’s not like running. It’s not terribly physically demanding and anyone can learn how to do it.”
There’s also a social and a teamwork aspect that the participants enjoy.
“It gets people to exercise and feel rejuvenated,” Grimmer said. “It’s an opportunity to do outdoor recreation on the water with that team concept and all the camaraderie that goes with it. … It has a competitive side that you can embrace. We’re having a lot of fun with it.”
The most important part of racing the dragon boat is keeping everyone in sync with their strokes. With 20 people in a boat, that can be challenging, at times.
“It all comes down to paddling in unison,” Grimmer said. “We’ve learned more and more about the physics of the paddle.”
The dragon boat season runs from early April through the end of the summer. But the Gig Harbor team plans to hold practices all year.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm right now,” Grimmer said. “Last year, we paddled in the winter. If you can keep your feet and upper-torso dry, it’s an enriching experience.”
The Gig Harbor Dragons are one of PenMet Parks’ recreation programs. The team is owned, moored and serviced by Ron Roark, owner of the Gig Harbor Boatyard and Marina. The team practices out of Skansie Park in downtown Gig Harbor.
To find out more about the team and to register, visit penmetparks.org.