The thundering beat of the drums captured Cooper Chaney's attention right away. As the sound grew louder, the 2-year-old ran toward the water's edge and stared as the boats glided by.
Then he went back to the shade.
Sitting beneath a tree along the Seddon Channel on Davis Islands, Chaney's family tried to stay cool while taking in the World Dragon Boat Championships Saturday morning.
Continuing through today, the event features 2,000 athletes from 17 countries competing for the sport's top title.
Boats feature 10 rows of two paddlers, a steersman who controls the boat's direction and a drummer who keeps rhythm. Boats are adorned with a dragon head at one end and a tail at the other.
Chaney's aunt, Jenna Manzella, who lives in South Tampa, thought the event would be a good opportunity to experience something new.
"It's interesting to see people from all over, and it's something different," she said.
The same reasoning propelled George and Margie Fox of Temple Terrace into the heat.
"It's a unique thing for Tampa, so international," Margie Fox said.
Impressed with the sport's athleticism, George Fox said he felt lucky to be in the shade.
"I'm glad I'm sitting here and not out in those boats," he said. "It's a high-energy sport."
Across the water on Harbour Island, a larger crowd gathered near the finish line behind Jackson's Bistro, where cheers often drowned out the drums.
Karla Wood of Liverpool, England, and Sam Major of London waved Great Britain's flag and shouted, "Go G.B." as the country's junior team raced by. Wood's son, Alex Wood, and Major's brother, Alex Major, are both on the team.
Despite the heat, Major said, members of the team have enjoyed their time in Tampa.
"They loved paddling alongside dolphins and rays," she said.
The only complaint was that there were not enough spectator facilities available where fans could get out of the sun and sit down, Wood said.
Aboard the Starship, fans such as Debbie McLean-Schubert crowded onto the upper deck for a bird's-eye view of the finish line and a bar serving cold drinks.
McLean-Schubert of Toronto happened to be in town visiting friends when she heard about the event, she said.
"They have a lot of dragon boat races in Toronto, but I have never seen any of them," she said. She came to give the Canadian team her support.
Tampa resident Sandra Desmond described the event as a mini-Olympics as she listened to the crowd behind the Westin Hotel shout, "U.S.A., U.S.A."
"Everybody comes together," she said. "I'm so proud of Tampa for having this."
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or [email protected]