NEW HOPE, Pa. (AP) — It only took about 2,000 years for something called dragon boating to make its way to what is now Bucks County, but there are plenty of folks around here who say it was well worth the wait.
The sport, which began in ancient China, has become a modern-day hit in places like the United States because it offers so many compelling aspects: competition, fitness, social interaction and, perhaps most of all, "it's something different."
All you need to get started is a 40-foot, $10,000 boat, about 20 hearty paddlers, a steersperson and a guy beating on a drum for stroke cadence.
How hard can it be?
Close to 100 members of the Bucks County Dragon Boat Association say once you get the hang of it, it's not that difficult at all.
Member Jill Talarico's experience with the club pretty much typifies what others have gotten out of the sport.
"When I first started dragon boating, I was very focused on winning races and medals," Talarico said. "I have always been an extremely competitive person. But my focus now is more on the experience than on the winning.
"I go out there every day and try my best and know that everyone else on the boat is doing the same. The people in this organization have become my closest friends, and we're really one big family. They are truly the most genuine, down-to-earth, fun-loving and caring people I have ever met."
While some consider dragon boating to be a distant cousin of rowing, this activity appears, at first glance, to look more like the Vikings setting sail across the Atlantic in search of new lands.
Whether they're practicing in the Delaware River off the shore of New Hope or in Middletown's Core Creek Park, the BCDBA's members put a premium on fun.
The club's mission statement covers what is trying to be achieved:
"Dragon boating is a unique sport in its ability to attract a broad demographic of members with varying cultural and occupational backgrounds, as well as varying degrees of age and fitness levels," it reads. "Dragon boating is a team sport with a dash of culture and a great competitive edge, but above all else, fun."
The BCDBA is a nonprofit organization that aids the community's various charitable organizations. The club says it is focused on inspiring personal growth, community integration and enhanced awareness of the natural environment through the adventures of dragon boating.
While local races produce lots of shouting and churned-up water, there's a peaceful dimension to dragon boating, perhaps having to do with the serenity of getting out on a river or a lake.
"There are many things that I love about the sport and my team (Blazing Dragons Fury)," Gwen Cloverdale said. "I was a swimmer in school but always wanted to try rowing — it wasn't offered where I grew up. Dragon boating lets me live out that dream while appealing to the 'aquatic' side of me that loves to be in the water. I love the competitive nature of the sport and my team.
"And I love the camaraderie and commitment to civic servitude. We have an amazing group of people in our organization and I've made lasting friendships with these women and men."
Dragon boating has been in the U.S. for some time, including the Philadelphia area.
In this area, an organization called Team Relentless was founded around 2008. That group draws from Mercer and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey, as well as Bucks. The BCDBA split off from Relentless about a year ago.
"One of the primary reasons is we wanted to move forward and do charitable work," explained BCDBA spokesperson Lisa Marie Horan. "We wanted to expand our focus beyond just the dragon boating."
Why is dragon boating so popular in the Delaware Valley?
"I think it's a sport that a lot of people post-college can get into," Horan said. "Because it's a relatively new sport (here), you don't have to come to it with a lot of experience.
"The rowing movement here started with (U.S. Olympian) Jack Kelly in Philadelphia. Rowing is more of a marathon sport, though, and dragon boat is a sprint."
A typical qualifying heat for a race might be only 200 meters. The longest event can be as much as 2,000 meters.
Horan estimated there are more than 500 dragon boat clubs in the U.S., a testament to its growing popularity.
While it's not yet an Olympic sport, dragon boat racing does have its own World Cup.
Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.phillyburbs.com