CAPE MAY — City merchants are hoping to take advantage of South Jersey’s love of all things rowing with a new Cape May Harbor festival.
The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May will sponsor its first dragon boat festival Oct. 13, with a competition on the harbor.
Dragon boats feature 22-person teams, including 20 rowers, a drummer who keeps pace in the bow and a helmsman who steers from the stern.
Between lifeguard races, kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddle-boarding, residents in South Jersey know all about paddling, organizer Cathy Sauerzopf said.
“A lot of people didn’t know what a dragon boat was until they saw a picture. Then it clicked with them,” said Sauerzopf, 53, of Lower Township.
“Once you do this, you’ll be bitten by the dragon and looking for more fun,” she said.
Dragon boat racing is on the rise as a fundraiser and festival event. Gilda’s Club of South Jersey, based in Linwood, has raced its own dragon boat since 2006.
“It’s becoming more popular. It’s fun, but it’s also a great sense of community and spirit on the boat,” said Adria Light, volunteer coordinator for Gilda’s Club.
Light said most Gilda’s Club races are noncompetitive.
“Our crew’s motto is ‘We’re always first in our lane,’” she said. “There are 20 paddlers, and not one is more important than the other. Each person has his own job to do. You have to work together.”
The Cape May chamber is inviting teams to register now. The group is charging $1,000 per team or $50 per rower to raise money for the festival. Twelve teams have signed up so far, Sauerzopf said.
The chamber contracted events organizer 22 Dragons, based in Quebec, to provide the boats, train the crews and set up the races.
Dragon boat racing originated along the Yangtze River in China more than 2,000 years ago, 22 Dragons spokeswoman Lyne Lariviere said.
Her company is hosting 50 events in North America this year, up from 42 last year, she said.
“It’s the fastest-growing water sport in North America,” she said. “We have 16 boats in our fleet. We supply all the equipment and expertise, and bring our staff and equipment.”
It does not take any experience to row, she said. But it takes practice to row well.
“If you can hold a paddle, you can row,” she said.
She has been rowing in Quebec for several years.
“I like it very much. I’m a water girl,” she said. “It’s fun to be with 19 other people in the boat, all going through the same pain.”
With the success of the relatively new Harbor Fest, the chamber is looking to expand its public events on the harbor. The Quebec company will bring six boats to Cape May to race in groups of three per heat.
Sauerzopf rows for a club based in Cherry Hill, Camden County, on the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania.
“It’s really cool. I’m in my 50s and have lupus,” she said. “This sport has motivated me to go to the gym and work out so I can keep doing it.”
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