Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dragon boat competitors paddle for fun, trophies in St. Petersburg


The woman in the pink boa raised her drumstick.

Facing backward at the front of a sleek, 40-foot-long black and yellow dragon boat, she waited. Before her sat 20 other women, tightly packed two-to-a-seat. They wore matching pink shirts and gripped matching pink paddles just above the water.

The horn sounded. The drumstick fell. The Pink Dragon Ladies were off.

About a hundred people watched on from Poynter Park, host to Saturday's Paddles Up St. Pete Festival. Some onlookers cheered. Others snapped photographs. A few lounged beneath the oaks and sipped from plastic cups of Bud Light.

The women quickly fell behind, though not due to a lack of precision or technique. Their form was flawless. With every drumbeat, their strokes cut through Bayboro Harbor in perfect harmony. More than three football fields away, they finished in second place, five seconds behind a coed team of 20-somethings from Eckerd College.

The event officially welcomed dragon boat racing to St. Petersburg.

At a price of $40 to $70 per person, 17 teams competed for a trophy, medals and hand-painted miniature paddles. They came from across Tampa Bay and beyond: Admiral Farragut Academy, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Villages, among other places.

Born in Asia thousands of years ago, the sport has quietly grown in popularity in America during the past several years. Competitions now run somewhere in Florida nearly every weekend.

The 800-pound boats — with ornately designed dragon heads and scale-pattern paint jobs — are certainly part of the allure, but the races also pose an athletic challenge.

To win at the highest levels, teams must paddle in seamless unison. The coxswain, who stands at the back of the boat, steers and gives orders. The drummer, who sits at the front, repeats those orders and keeps the paddlers in synch.

And the best teams practice.

A lot.

The Pink Dragon Ladies — a team of breast cancer survivors — get together twice a week, year-round.

"We're all friendly," said the drummer in the pink boa, Vickey Emery. "But when we're on the water, we're trying to kick your butt."

Emery has never had cancer, but as a radiation therapist she often works with women suffering from the disease. She plans to compete with different teams at forthcoming events in Orlando, Sarasota and Miami.

Others who attended Saturday's event didn't take things quite so seriously.

The Salty Power Dragons, a group of mostly seniors who finished a distant third behind the Pink Dragon Ladies in a three-team heat, practiced together for the first time last week.

Karen O'Halloran, who noted that she had paddled near the front to splash the people behind her, said finishing last wasn't so bad.

"We had a longer photo op," she said.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at

Dragon boat competitors paddle for fun, trophies in St. Petersburg 10/06/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 6, 2012 9:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. After offseason of work hard, play hard, DeSean Jackson ready to produce for Bucs


    TAMPA — There's no telling what DeSean Jackson will do once he gets a football in his hands. Perhaps that's why a camera crew followed his every move Wednesday while the Bucs' new $30 million receiver stood on a step of the hot tub that empties into a spacious, azure pool at his new, sprawling five-bedroom home in …

    DeSean Jackson jokes around with girlfriend Kayla Phillips at their Tampa home as a crew from HBO’s Hard Knocks documents their day.
  2. Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that's expected to initially create 3,000 jobs, the largest economic development project in state history.

    President Donald Trump embraces Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the East Room of the White House during an announcement Wednesday that Foxconn is going to build a plant in Wisconsin.
  3. Playoff chase heats up for Rays with critical series at Yankees up first (w/ video)

    The Heater


    It was important that Evan Longoria crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday and Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo shot off the farthest catwalk an inning later.

    Adeiny Hechavarria (11) and Tim Beckham (1) celebrate the double play to end the top of the sixth inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Conservatives come to Sessions' defense amid Trump attacks


    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and influential conservatives rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as President Donald Trump kept up his public pelting of the nation's top law enforcement officer and left his future in doubt.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  5. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here (w/ video)

    The Heater


    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, it better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher it can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]