Looking for exercise, fun, community — and plenty of paddling?

By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly

Dragon boating has become a very popular water sport here in the Portland area. For those unfamiliar with the sport, it consists of a boat of 22 people — 20 paddlers, one drummer or caller in front, and a steerer at the rear — with the goal of racing to cross the finish line faster than their competitors. The origins of dragon boating date back over 2,000 years as a symbol of Chinese culture and spirit, and it has become a popular water sport known throughout the world. Portland has over 32 dragon boat teams that compete in a variety of races locally and internationally.

What’s so appealing about this particular sport is that everyone can participate! Teams vary in ages from high schoolers to seniors and skill levels ranging from the novice who’s never touched a paddle all the way to extremely competitive, eat my wake! And there seems to be a team for everyone, including the Blind Ambition, America’s first blind dragon boat team; the Pink Phoenix, consisting solely of breast cancer survivors; the Golden Dragons, a 50+ older team; the OWLS (Oregon Women Lawyers); and A Shui Life, comprised of both deaf and hearing women.

“When I first moved here in 2006, I didn’t know anyone,” deaf paddler Maks Skuzinski recalls. “A friend introduced me to dragon boating. I loved being with a group of diverse women of all ages, orientation, and signing level. I continue because I want to show that a woman who is deaf and gay can do anything. Sort of my statement to the community saying, ‘I am here.’”

If you’re looking for the lezzies, look no further than the one of my favorite teams: the all-lesbian powerhouse, Amazon Dragons. The Amazons were founded in 1992 by the Lesbian Community Project to promote a positive lesbian presence at the Portland Rose Festival. They typically have between 40 and 60 active paddlers and participate in six to eight races per season. Part of their mission is to “provide lesbians with camaraderie, fitness, and physical strength through competitive dragon boat racing.”

“Women choose to join our team because we are a competitive, strong team and the sense of community we build,” says Alicia Reynolds, Amazon communication director.  We become like a second family to one another and support each other through all that life has to offer.”

This weekend, Sept. 8-9, down at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, 80 teams will participate in the Annual Portland Dragon Boat Races. It will be a weekend filled with exciting races, fun socializing, and community, and let’s face it, tons of buff paddlers.

Paddles up!


For more information about dragon boating go to dragonsports.org.