By Robert Mills
Bay Area boaters and aquatic enthusiasts can look forward to fun in the water this Saturday at the third annual Paddle and Picnic hosted by the Berkeley Racing Canoe Center (BRCC). The free event will feature dragon boat rides, live music, kid’s crafts, an ice sculptor, a raffle and a silent auction at Berkeley Marina.
BRCC will provide a barbecue lunch for $10, and all proceeds and donations will go toward the center’s dragon boat team, Dragon Max.
“The dragon boat team does a lot of community service, especially our youth,” said Phyllis Ritchie, a member of Dragon Max. “[Wednesday] we are taking two boats full of the YMCA kids out on the water. Members of our team volunteer to help out. One of the reasons for the [Paddle and Picnic] is so we can continue these services.”
Dragon boats originated in China as a a team paddling sport. The long, often ornate boats are entirely people powered. Paddlers have taken part in competitive dragon boat racing for more than 20 centuries.
Prospective Bay Area paddlers can find the Paddle and Picnic event at Berkeley Marina just past the Double Tree Hotel across from Cesar Chavez Park at the Olympic Circle Sailing Club.
Ritchie hopes the event will help BRCC raise enough funds to maintain existing dragon boats and invest in new canoes, kayaks and an outrigger to be used for future community paddling events.
Dragon Max is Berkeley’s competitive, medal-winning dragon boat team. The 10-year-old team practices 52 weeks a year every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday at Berkeley Marina. The public team, led by Coach Rodger Garfinkle, invites newcomers of all ages to attend practices.
“Anybody can come and climb on the boat and give it a try,” Ritchie said. “We pull our dragon boats up to the loading dock, and we take people for paddling rides out in the marina so they can get a sense of what it’s like.
Dragon boaters come in all ages, shapes and sizes, Ritchie said. Almost anyone can do it, as long as they can get in and out of a boat with minimal assistance.
“I’m 66 and the second oldest woman in the boat, and I’m a strong paddler,” said Ritchie. “I’ve been doing it for 17 years.”
Ritchie said dragon boat racing is more about team cooperation than individual skill.
“One of the things I like about dragon boating is it’s absolutely and truly a team sport,” Ritchie said. “It’s available for anyone to try it out. You don’t have to be a jock to try it, and you can ultimately be good at paddling. There’s a sense of camaraderie, of increasing your health, and it’s just great to be on the water.”