IF you happen to be walking down by the Thames at Runnymede most Sunday mornings you might have wondered at the rhythmic drumming that occasionally emanates from the river. The source, it turns out, is the Wraysbury Dragons, a dedicated group of men and women of all ages who just love paddling up and down the river in a canoe-like boat with a dragon’s head on the front.
Bizarre it may sound, but the Dragons – whose ages range from 9 to 70 – are paying homage to a sport that has its origins in ancient China and which can be traced back more than 2,000 years. And the enthusiasm amongst the paddlers is obvious.
39-year-old Sara George from Convent Road, Ashford is the Dragons’ crew manager and she is keen to attract more people to come and take part in the sport.
“I first got involved with dragon boat racing when I was employed by Moss Pharmacy who sponsored the team and my husband, Mark, was a paddler,” she said.
“I was really keen to have a go but initially I was told it was very much a ‘men-only’ thing. However, in 1998 they changed the rules to say each team had to have at least four women in the boat and I haven’t looked back since.”
The Wraysbury Dragons are part of the Wraysbury Skiff and Punting Club based on the riverside behind the Runnymede pleasure ground on Windsor Road, Egham.
“We attract people from all different walks of life,” says Sara, whose nickname is Mother Hen because of her organising prowess. “The crew includes an airline pilot, builders, a golf course green keeper, NHS workers, someone who works for the Ministry of Defence and a personal trainer among others.”
Apart from the attraction of enjoying the beauties of the Thames, dragon boat racing apparently has two other major attractions.
“It’s a great way of keeping fit and it’s a hotbed of romance,” laughs Sara. “We’ve already had our first dragon boat wedding in 2003 and there are a couple of others in the pipeline. We all enjoy the social side of belonging to the club.”
The current problem for the Wraysbury Dragons is that they need new paddlers to join the crew.
Liz Randall, 56, and her partner, Clive Hearne, from Stanwell Moor are both GB senior internationals in dragon boat racing who have competed all over the world but they are quick to point out that it’s not in any way an elitist sport.
“We just love getting out on the river and having fun. We do take part in competitive races through the year but the real point is that it’s a fantastic buzz to be part of the crew with the drums thumping and the paddles swishing through the water. It’s a great feeling.”
The Dragons train twice a week – on Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings – for a couple of hours each time.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Dragons, email Sara at wam.motherhen [at] tiscali.co.uk or call her on 07811 403593.
- Dragon boats are 40 feet in length and weigh around a quarter of a ton
- There are up to 20 paddlers in a boat
- The stroke is kept by a drummer who sits precariously perched in the bow of the boat
- Dragon boats race over distances ranging from 200m to one kilometre
- Dragon boats can travel at up to 8mph when they are at full tilt