Otepoti launches successful team

The Otepoti Dragons compete at Lake Hood, near Ashburton, last month. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
The Otepoti Dragons compete at Lake Hood, near Ashburton, last month. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Dragon boats are back on the Otago Harbour, thanks to a little help from our Canterbury friends.

The last time a competitive dragon boat crew was spotted on the harbour was about 10 years ago.

The sport had all but disappeared from the city.

But a conversation had by a group of enthusiasts late last year led to the formation of the Dunedin Dragon Boating team in November.

The Otepoti Dragons at Lake Hood.
The Otepoti Dragons at Lake Hood.
The team competes under the name the Otepoti Dragons and is part of the Tu Meke Sports Club in Christchurch which is affiliated with the Aoraki Dragon Boating Association.

Technically, the Otepoti Dragons are a Canterbury club who paddle in Dunedin.

But team spokeswoman Chessie Cooper said the sport’s return to the city had been long overdue.

"I think the last time there was a team down here might have been 2010 or something," she said.

"But we come under the Aoraki Dragon Boat Association ... and they’ve helped us to get up and running along with our club Tu Meke as well."

The newly formed team held open days in November to gauge the interest and there was plenty of enthusiasm.

The Otepoti Dragons went on to string together a promising debut season which culminated in solid performances at the national championships at Lake Hood, near Ashburton, in late March.

More on that later, because arguably the greater feat was to stitch together a crew of 30-plus paddlers from a starting point where there were just a few scattered competitors forced to race for teams based outside Dunedin.

The team comprises a mix of male and female paddlers of all abilities and experience, ranging in age from 12 to north of 50.

During the season they trained twice a week out of their base next to the Otago Yacht Club.

"A lot of new crews struggle to get people and to even get a crew to the nationals, so it has been pretty incredible for us to put together a team and get to the nationals," Cooper said.

"It is really good fun. It is awesome to go to some of the bigger events and just the atmosphere of all the teams coming together.

"There is a lot camaraderie between the paddlers.

"But at the moment it is about growing the sport and getting it out there for people to hear about and be a part of because it is so different.

"Not many people have heard about it but you get sucked in once you get involved."

The Otepoti Dragons made their competitive debut at the Aoraki Open, held at Lake Rua, in Christchurch, in January.

They finished fourth in women’s open 1km turns race in their first outing. They also collected two first place finishes in shorter events which was impressive for their first regatta.

There were more good results at the Akaroa 10s regatta in February, which was encouraging ahead of the South Island championships, at Lake Hood in March.

The Otepoti Dragons took a full 20-man crew to the event and raced in their first 2km turns race. They unexpectedly made it into the A finals of the 20-man 200m and 500m race and nabbed fourth place in both.

They returned to Lake Hood for the national championships a week later and achieved their best times across the 200m, 500m and 2km distances.

Some of Otepoti’s most experienced paddlers teamed up with Tu Meke members to form a competitive 10-man crew.

They competed in the women’s 200m sprint race, claiming silver and upgrading to gold in the 500m.

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