In the wake of Chinese tradition

Heide Tacheron, 46, says paddling a 42-foot boat across the waters of Lake Meridian is easy.

  • Tuesday, May 13, 2008 2:21pm
  • News

Above: Kent Dragon Boat Association conducted practice Saturday on Lake Meridian. In front are lead rowers Kristi Gerling

Dragon-boating a big deal for Kent rowers

Heide Tacheron, 46, says paddling a 42-foot boat across the waters of Lake Meridian is easy.

All it takes is 20 paddlers with a little technique, a drummer and a tiller.

Tacheron is a five-year member and current board treasurer of the Kent Dragon Boat Association, an organization committed to the international sport of dragon boating. The association celebrated its “Awakening Ceremony” Saturday, officially kicking off the dragon-boat season, which lasts from March through October each year.

Inspired by a 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition, the sport is now one of the fastest-growing water sports around the world, Tacheron said, and it’s thriving in Kent.

“The club incorporated back in 2001,” Tacheron said. “It started off with a pretty small group of people, and now it’s grown to the point where it’s averaging 75 members each season.”

The association now has three teams, including women’s team “Ladies of the Lake,” co-ed team “Dragin’ Tails” and youth team “Akujiki Dragons.” Each team practices once or twice weekly and competes against other Northwest teams more than five times each season.

Dragon boating began in ancient China when a beloved Chinese poet fell out of the good graces of an emperor and threw himself into the river, according to the association’s Web site, www.kentdragonboat.com. The poet’s followers paddled out in their long boats to try and rescue him, splashing the water with their paddles and beating their drums to frighten the fish and “water dragons” away from him.

Tacheron says the sport has now grown to the level that it’s in the process of being qualified as an Olympic sport, but for most local participants, it’s just a great way to have fun and stay active. And anyone can do it, she says.

“You don’t have to be some great athlete to have fun and feel accomplished in this,” she said. “It’s an amazing sport because you can literally be anybody at any physical level, get into the boat and after a few practices get the technique down.”

The 42-foot-long dragon boat accommodates 10 pairs of people sitting side-by-side with a drummer at the bow and a tiller at the stern. The tiller keeps the boat on course, while the drummer acts as the team coach, calling out commands during practice and beating a drum during races to keep rhythm of the paddlers — about 60 strokes per minute.

Tacheron said the keys to success are technique and teamwork.

“It’s your technique, your ability to stay in time with everyone else that makes you a successful paddler,” she said. “The camaraderie is great, and of course it’s great exercise.”

Races are typically either 250 or 500 meters, she said, and the local association makes a habit of entering competitions around the Northwest. But it’s not all about winning. Many dragon boaters join to recuperate from an injury or to overcome disease or disability. A blind man from Seattle was even a member of an association team until this year.

“This is also a huge cancer-survivor sport,” Tacheron said. “There are many, many teams that are made up of only cancer survivors.”

She remembers a race she paddled against such a team and how inspiring it was to watch the group of breast-cancer survivors work together.

“It’s such an amazing thing as a woman in my 40s to watch these women who have gone through what they’ve gone through and not just be survivors but be such strong survivors,” Tacheron said.

She said it’s also exciting to watch people of all ages succeed in the sport, such as former member Mary Huber, 77, who participated in the association for five years following a knee replacement.

“I think anybody can do it, because you can work hard at it, but you can also be very laid back,” Huber said. “It’s up to you how much you want to challenge yourself.”

It’s all-inclusive, Tacheron said, but it’s not boring. She said once you go out on the boat and get the hang of paddling, you’ll be hooked.

“When you get out there, the adrenaline gets going and it’s so exciting,” she said. “It’s great camaraderie, of course great exercise and we get the best views of Lake Meridian.”

Community members are invited to try dragon boating for free. Tacheron said anyone can show up at practices, which take place at 6 p.m. Tuesdays or 8 a.m. Saturdays at Lake Meridian in Kent. Youths ages 14-18 can show up at 5:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Those interested are welcome to participate three times before making a commitment to the association, which costs $100 per year and $25 per race.

The association will partner with the Kent Lion’s Club to host the Kent Cornucopia Dragon Boat Races July 12. Community members are invited to watch the event, which attracts up to 45 teams every year.

For more information, visit www.kentdragonboat.com or e-mail info@kentdragonboat.com.

Contact Daniel Mooney at 253-437-6012 or dmooney@reporternewspapers.com.

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