Try dragon boating this summer with the Cleveland Dragon Boat Association

Ever seen a dragon boat?

The boat is 40 feet long and 600 pounds, with the head and tail of a dragon, a hull painted with scales and 20 paddles representing claws. The sport, which began as an ancient Chinese ritual, is trending all over the world.

“I like the camaraderie, and it’s a great ab workout,” said Starr Kelley, 32, of Strongsville, who has belonged to the Emerald Dragon team for five years.

Dragon boating began as a Chinese ritual celebrating Qe Yuan, the great Chinese warrior poet, who committed suicide in the river Mi Lo to protest political corruption. Legend said that followers raced out in their boats to save him.

In 1976 the first Hong Kong International Races began the era of modern dragon boat racing, according to the International Dragon Boat Federation. Since then, the sport has become increasingly popular, with more than 300,000 participants in Europe and 90,000 in the United States and Canada.

There’s now a push to make dragon boat racing an Olympic sport.

All breast-cancer survivor teams, including the Dragon Dream Team on the Portage Lakes, are a major component of the sport.

Each team of 22 people includes 20 paddlers, each with one paddle moving in unison, a drummer and a steersman.

In Cleveland, the Cleveland Dragon Boat Association owns and operates three dragon boats on the Cuyahoga River. Anyone can participate, for $5 a session. The organization has corporate-sponsored teams, cancer-survivor teams, and community teams, and handles one-time team-building outings as well as regular practices and festival races. New teams may form any time.

The association offer Learn to Paddle sessions at 10 a.m. every Sunday in Rivergate Park, in front of Merwin’s Wharf restaurant, at 1785 Merwin Avenue in the Flats. Register here.

Its annual Cleveland Dragon Boat Festival is moving this year from the Cuyahoga to the Black River in Lorain.

Just before Memorial Day weekend, the teams launched their boats in the Cuyahoga, with a dozen people lifting and using a crane to lower them in.

Said member Rob Ashworth: “It’s always exciting to get the first boat in.”

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