Fun on the water: Annual dragon boat races held on Susquehanna

By Cabrini Rudnicki - For Times Leader
Patty Hughes waits with her team to board a dragon boat on Sunday. - Fred Adams | For Times Leader
Teams board dragon boats in Nesbitt Park on Sunday. - Fred Adams | For Times Leader
The Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA won in the first heat of Sunday’s dragon boat races. - Fred Adams | For Times Leader
Jennifer Balut, the drummer on the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA’s boat, sets the pace. - - Fred Adams | For Times Leader
Captain Patty Hughes gets the crew of theDowntown Wilkes-Barre Business Association’s boat ready to go at the annual dragon boat races at Riverfest in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday. - - Fred Adams | For Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE – Dragon boats took to the Susquehanna River on Sunday, marking the final day of Riverfest.

But the annual races were much more than just some fun on the water.

“Before you teach, you have to get them into your classroom,” Riverfront Parks Committee Executive Director John Mayday said. “(The river front) is our classroom.”

This year’s races proved to be both athletic and fun, but also educational for the many team members, volunteers and visitors.

Dragon boat racing entails a group of people paddling in a large boat, which is decorated with dragon heads and tails. The style of racing comes from ancient China.

The event requires 22 people in a boat, with 20 people paddling, one person drumming and one person steering the boat.

Each team had a theme, with the team’s drummer in a special costume. Different themes included 101 Dalmatians, pirates and Santa Claus.

Multiple area organizations joined the event as a way of a team-building activity. Each team underwent a day of training on Saturday.

Marisue Sack, of the Family Services Association, was excited to get a chance to be on the river.

“It’s a new perspective to be on the river,” said Sack. “It’s really nice to be down here and supporting our area.”

Garrett Barr, of the King’s College team, spoke about the difficulty of the event and endurance it required.

“The most important thing is that you try to stay in sync with each other,” said Barr. “Our first race was terrible, we got completely out of sync, but in our second run we got better.”

The event finished with a grand finale between the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA and Geisinger Health Plan, with the YMCA eventually beating Geisinger by less than a minute.

Marlene Tary, a volunteer member of Riverfront Parks Committee, has been looking forward to this event all year.

“We fund raise throughout the year for this event and for the three-day festival,” she said.

Mayday spoke about the process of bringing dragon boat racing to Wilkes-Barre. After becoming aware of the event 10 years ago, Mayday contacted 22Dragons, a Montreal-based organization that contributes the boats to the event, who connected him with the event’s coordinator, Dragonboat Racing Philadelphia.

“After that I came back and I said, ‘I think this may be something we could be interested in,’” said Mayday. “They replied with, ‘Are you crazy?’”

Mayday got permission from the committee, and after having employees of 22Dragons look at the river to see if the event was feasible, dragon boat racing became a traditional part of Riverfest in 2010.

According to Mayday, only three places in the state feature dragon boat racing: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre.

Although Riverfest had more straight-forward educational events on Friday and Saturday, Mayday said that Sunday was just as important.

“The purpose of all of Riverfest is environmental education,” said Mayday. “This is what I would call a more benign form of education.

“Someone may be down here for the first time and think about how they need to come more often. Today could give them a better appreciation of the environment. It’s our responsibility to care for it.”

Patty Hughes waits with her team to board a dragon boat on Sunday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_dragon5_faa-1.jpgPatty Hughes waits with her team to board a dragon boat on Sunday. Fred Adams | For Times Leader

Teams board dragon boats in Nesbitt Park on Sunday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_dragon4_faa-1.jpgTeams board dragon boats in Nesbitt Park on Sunday. Fred Adams | For Times Leader

The Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA won in the first heat of Sunday’s dragon boat races.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_dragon3_faa-1.jpgThe Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA won in the first heat of Sunday’s dragon boat races. Fred Adams | For Times Leader

Jennifer Balut, the drummer on the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA’s boat, sets the pace.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_dragon2_faa-1.jpgJennifer Balut, the drummer on the Wilkes-Barre Family YMCA’s boat, sets the pace. Fred Adams | For Times Leader

Captain Patty Hughes gets the crew of theDowntown Wilkes-Barre Business Association’s boat ready to go at the annual dragon boat races at Riverfest in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_dragon1_faa-1.jpgCaptain Patty Hughes gets the crew of theDowntown Wilkes-Barre Business Association’s boat ready to go at the annual dragon boat races at Riverfest in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday. Fred Adams | For Times Leader
Dragon boat races return to Susquehanna

By Cabrini Rudnicki

For Times Leader