- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The rhythmic drumbeat grew louder from across the water.

In the distance the paddles rose and splashed, propelling the canoe up to racing speed before settling into the cadence. As they passed the docks on Hauser Reservoir, the paddlers dug deep for a six-count before scaling back, shouting commands and encouragement before digging in again.

“The hardest thing about dragon boat racing is learning how to cooperate, forget you’re an individual and become one,” said Phil Cohea, who steered from the stern. “It’s like being in a band.”

Associated with the Helena Outdoor Club, paddlers meet twice a week to practice their skills for the upcoming dragon boat races on Flathead Lake Sept. 10-13. Helena has fielded a team the past two years, but with a growing local interest, will send one women’s and one mixed team to the big race on the big lake.

They haven’t quite decided on team names yet, reported the Independent Record (https://bit.ly/29Fya9y).

“We were actually short that first year, and we had some folks from Canada row with us,” said Jo Anne Thun. “That taught us a lot about dragon boat racing - that it’s not all about competition, but people interacting between teams and helping each other.”

The Flathead races are a lot of fun and take on a bit of a party-like atmosphere, she said.

Dragon boating uses a long, slender design complete with a dragon on the bow. A drummer sits up front, followed by pairs of paddlers 10 deep and a paddler on the stern acting as a rudder. Dragon boats date back more than 2,000 years in southern China, according to the International Dragon Boat Federation, with popularity growing in the last 25 years across other continents.

Paddling takes near perfect coordination between pairs, said Sandy Standley, beating the drum and giving instructions. Paddlers need core strength to maintain stamina during lengthy races with long strokes and concentration on form.

“I love it,” said first-year paddler Judy Fay. “I was watching it and now I have the opportunity to get into the boat, and that’s been great.”

Dragon boat racing requires a vessel. At Flathead Lake the organizers provide the boat, but the budding Helena racers make do for practice with an old canoe that limits the number of paddlers and means practices must be held on two different nights.

“It’s a lot of money for our own boat - between $5,000 and $11,000 - but that’s our goal,” Thun said.

Thun launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for a boat, and the club is also hoping to attract some sponsors.

While teams have been set for this year, the club welcomes anyone who would like to give dragon boat racing a try to meet for practice at Lakeside Marina at 6:30 p.m. on Monday or Thursday. If interest continues to grow, a third team could be on the water for next year, Thun said.

“That’s our big vision for the world. I’d like to see us have some expeditions and maybe even a dragon boat race out here one day,” she said, gesturing to the waters of Hauser.

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Information from: Independent Record, https://www.helenair.com

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