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Enter the dragon


credit: Georgie Read

Perhaps it should. Since the creation of the Oklahoma River in 2004 and the designation of Oklahoma City National High Performance Center (NHPC) as an Olympic training site in 2009, water sports have become increasingly popular in the metro. Construction of the Devon and Chesapeake Boathouses has also helped spur interest in water activities such as dragon boating. But first things first: Just what is dragon boating?

An ancient Chinese sport dating back thousands of years, it requires ornate, 18-meter-long boats that are carved and painted to resemble snarling dragons. A team normally consists of 10 to 20 rowers and one drummer. Although the sport — it can be recreational or competitive — has been around for centuries, it’s only begun to gain a following in the U.S. over the last few decades.

Gregg Schutze, AAA team captain, said he is drawn to dragon boating’s camaraderie, exercise and resulting mental payoff.

“To me, the appeal is in working together as a team, as well as the competitiveness,” said Schutze, a transplanted Californian who had looked for a way to get back to the water after moving to Oklahoma.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on any given day. When all you hear is the beat of the drum and the paddles hitting the water, you’re just at peace.”

Schutze said one of the sport’s most attractive aspects is its accessibility.

“Whether you’re an athlete or not, anyone can do it,” he said. “Our teams are co-ed. We’ve got a wide range of ages, from people in their early 20s to their mid 50s. If you can paddle to the beat of a drum, you can do it.”

Shelley Pruitt, team captain for Urban Neighbors, was looking to expand her organization’s activities on the river when she learned about dragon boating.

“It’s a fun way for people to get together and build teamwork,” she said. “We’re all busy, so I like that it combines two things in one: social fun and a workout.”

Pruitt predicted the sport will build an enthusiastic following in OKC.

“I really see it growing here,” she said. “I believe the river will always be cared for. Plus, we have the state-of-the-art equipment at Devon, Chesapeake, and the NHPC. It’s a great way to get on the water and not just watch from the sidelines.”

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